What a strange title for an astronomy article you are probably thinking. Perhaps it’s another opinion about the Star of Bethlehem; was it a comet, supernova, maybe a conjunction of several planets or is the whole event just a myth. Although that would probably make for an interesting article, what I am actually going to write about is the gift of volunteerism, specifically at your local observatory.
If you have ever seen the expression of children opening up their gifts Christmas morning, you can’t but help see the excitement, joy, and unbelief in their eyes, not to mention hearing phrases like: "WOW!, Awesome!, this is so COOL!" and "Hey you got to see this!" Well let me tell you, operating a telescope Friday nights at my local Observatory, I’ll hear much of the same things and half the time it’s coming from the parents. There is nothing like seeing the face on someone, who had just observed Saturn for the first time or when you explain to someone that the light coming from that object they just looked at, had been traveling for some 2.5 billion years. You always know you’ve made a big impact on them, when you see them return week after week or what I like to call, “frequent flyers”. Besides the personal joy you receive by turning people on to astronomy, there’s that ego boost you get when people ask if you have a degree in astronomy or if you do this professionally. When I tell them I am just a volunteer and astronomy is a hobby of mine, they are even more appreciative and thankful.
Although being a volunteer can be plenty of work, it is also allot of fun! Where else can you have full access to a quality telescope you don’t even own and view the things that you’d like to see? If the search for knowledge is what you are after, there is plenty to learn by listening to your staff astronomer explain things to others, or engage yourself with other astronomy enthusiast who frequently stop by. Since being a volunteer, I’ve been involved in conversations from dark matter and black holes, to Avogadro’s number and how the last Star Trek movie could have been better written.
So if you ever thought about becoming a volunteer, stop by your local observatory and talk with their staff astronomer; who knows, there may be an opening just waiting for you.