Title: Interview with Star Trek’s Tim Russ
Podcaster: Ed Sunder
Organization: Flintstone Stargazing
Description: Ed Sunder interviews Tim Russ, an amateur astronomer better known to Star Trek Voyager fans as Tuvok about his love of astronomy and how he participates in the hobby.
Bio: Ed has been observing since he first looked through his telescope and saw Jupiter and her moons in June, 2007. Since then he’s observed and imaged the entire Messier catalog and is outside looking at the stars from his driveway pretty much every clear night.
Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the world’s leader in variable star data and information, bringing professional and amateur astronomers together to observe and analyze variable stars, and promoting research and education using variable star data. Visit the AAVSO on the web at www.aavso.org.
Hi, I’m Ed Sunder and I’m an amateur astronomer in Flintstone, Georgia. I’ve been doing astronomy for the past two years and recording my journey at my blog, flinstonestargazing.com.
I’d like to welcome you to the September 15th edition of the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today, I’ll be talking with amateur astronomer Tim Russ. Many of you know Tim from his day job as an actor. In particular, fans of Star Trek know him as Tuvok from the Star Trek: Voyager series, the director of the recent feature length internet production Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, as well as a number of other Star Trek movie and TV roles. He recently played Frank on the ABC series Samantha Who and can currently be seen as Principle Franklin on the Nickelodean series iCarly. He is an avid musician who created the Bugsters book and CD. His music and Bugsters can be purchased from his web site timrusswebpage.com. Tim, thanks for doing this interview. I’d like to start off with: What got you interested in astronomy?
Tim Russ: I got involved in astronomy pretty much on my own. I decided one day to go out and get a small telescope – I got an Astroscan which is a small 4 inch Newtonian mirror – very portable, very durable – and just drove out to the outskirts of the city where the skies are dark enough and took my star chart and started looking for objects in the Summer sky. I started to memorize the constellations and got used to where things were and was able to find stuff pretty easily after a while. I spent many, many nights out there doing that.
Ed: So, what kind of equipment do you have?
Tim Russ: I currently have, as far as equipment goes, I have a 10″ Meade Dobsonian, one of my favorites. I have an 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain that’s also Meade that just has a polar alignment drive on it – it’s not a computerized scope. I have a small Bizarro short tube refractor which has binocular eyepieces that go with it – very nice telescope, very beautiful images. I have an ETX Meade, ETX-60 and that’s a nice little telescope for the backyard – planets and the moon and such. And I also have a set of astronomical binoculars that I use on occasion, so I basically have the bases covered with those four scopes.
Ed: I guess so. What, out of all of that, is there any piece of astronomy equipment that you couldn’t live without?
Tim Russ: It’s hard to say which one of the four scopes I have that I couldn’t live without. I think that each one of them has a specific function and I use for specific things. So I need all four of them to really do the kind of viewing I like to do.
Ed: Sure. I understand that. How often do you get out to observe?
Tim Russ: These days I only get a chance to go out maybe a couple of times during the summer. Possibly once during the fall if it’s still warm. I’m much busier nowadays than I was in the past so I really have to work getting in on the new moons.
Ed: Do you have a good location that you observe from?
Tim Russ: When I go out to view I generally go out North on the 5 freeway from Los Angeles into the Angeles forest, basically toward the Grapevine. And just go up the Grapevine a little ways. I don’t get as far as Frazier Park usually because I don’t want to drive too far back if I’m out there late, so I found a spot recently that’s pretty good. It works very well for me – just a little bit of a glow from the southern sky, but it’s workable.
Ed: While you’re out there what are your favorite targets to observe? What do you like to look at?
Tim Russ: My favorite targets are usually the ones that are the biggest and the brightest. Because if I’m going to be looking at something in the telescope eyepiece, or showing someone, I would pick things that are, objects that are the most interesting to look at. That fill the eyepiece – that are bright enough to see some detail on. So, the big nebulas – the Eagle Nebula, the Lagoon, also M13 in Hercules, the Ring Nebula, things like that are some of my favorite targets. Those things are the most impressive in the eyepiece and what I usually shoot for. Those kinds of objects as well as some of the open clusters that are quite impressive. And also the fact that my scopes are limited in the light gathering capability that they have so it’s difficult to see a lot of objects simply because they aren’t bright enough and thus I haven’t gone through the entire Messier catalog as of yet. Sometimes once you find those objects that are very hard to find, there is not very much there to look at.
Ed: Sure. What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve observed in the sky? (Not necessarily through your telescope)
Tim Russ: The most interesting thing I’ve observed without a telescope was a very long, slow moving fireball. It was absolutely fascinating. I was not sure if it was a natural object or something that was man made that was returning into the atmosphere, but it was sort of a long, straight, glowing ball with a long trail behind it and it finally just dimmed out. It was a beautiful sight and I caught it quite by accident. And within the telescope, I think the most interesting thing I’ve seen was an open cluster of stars that had a number of different colored stars in them. I’d say at least 3 or 4 different colors that were very distinct. And I’ve since had very great difficulty trying to find that object again because it was pointed out to me by someone else’s telescope at the time and I didn’t make a note of it. My mistake.
Ed: Man – I don’t think you’re the only person who’s ever done that. What keeps you interested in astronomy?
Tim Russ: I am continuously fascinated by astronomy because of the new discoveries primarily that scientists are making, astronomers are making. Every single month of the year there’s new information, new discoveries being made and they can’t learn enough to satisfy me at this point. I’m absolutely fascinated by all of the new discoveries, whether they be black holes, multiple dimensions now, dark energy, dark matter, all these kinds of things… these are all brand new concepts and our next step and goal of course is for them to try to find and prove these theories.
Ed: That’s great. I think the science, the technology, that’s what keeps many of us fascinated with the hobby and involved and interested. Since I observe from my driveway, it’s easy and fun for me to involve my kids in astronomy. I’ll bring them out and let them look through the telescope and let them see stuff. I understand you have a 10 year old daughter – does she share your enthusiasm for astronomy? Does she get out with you and observe sometimes?
Tim Russ: Whenever I get a chance to I will have my daughter with me, in the backyard in particular, to look at the Moon and the planets on occasion. She loves to look in the telescope eyepiece to see what I’m looking at. And she enjoys that a great deal. I don’t usually take her out with me when I go to the dark skies, to do viewing for 2 or 3 hours at a time because she might get a little bit bored with that. So the stuff she likes are the bright objects – the Moon and planets and things like that. If there’s a comet around she’ll want to see that as well.
Ed: That’s fantastic. So have you done any imaging? Imaging equipment’s come down so much in price in the past few years and I know a lot of amateurs are getting involved.
Tim Russ: There is a great deal of new consumer technology for imaging coming out. I know when I started out there was big bulky sort of laptop hookups to the eyepieces. Now, they’ve got single eyepieces – things you can clip on and rock and roll. I haven’t, as yet, done any imaging because the scopes that I have don’t have motor drives that will track perfectly still and keep everything centered. And on top of that, I kind of follow the philosophy that I do when I play music: I like to be able to keep everything simple. Just low tech and simple. Not too much electronics and trying to figure things out. When I go out I just want to take the telescope out of the car, plop it on the ground, put the eyepiece in and go to town and I like looking in the eyepiece and seeing with my naked eye rather than imaging. Sometime down the line, perhaps, I will give it a shot when it’s as simple as it can possibly be and it will work with the telescopes that I have.
Ed: Well, as simple as it can possibly be, you may have to wait a while on that one. But… it’s getting easier. You never know… Are you a member of a local astronomy club and if so, which one?
Tim Russ: I do associate with the Valley College Astronomy Club and sometimes the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. On occasion, whenever they get together for their gatherings, I will join in, join with them on those things. If we get some large viewing parties for events that we might have in the sky. But I’m not a paid member of any particular club right now.
Ed: So you do attend star parties and that kind of thing periodically?
Tim Russ: I do attend the Valley College Star Party. Usually once a year. When they call me I’ll try to make an effort to get out and join them for their star parties.
Ed: You know, as you were talking about the science and stuff like that that draws you into the hobby… One of the things that I love about it is that it’s one of the few areas of science where amateurs still contribute significantly to the science that’s done. Did you see the recent news about the amateur astronomer from Australia that discovered a large black scar on Jupiter? I think it was an impact mark of some kind. Have you looked at Jupiter since that discovery was made?
Tim Russ: As for the spot that was found by the amateur astronomer from Australia, I have not had a chance to verify that with my naked eye in the telescopes. Recently, I know that my partner who goes out with me on occasion, André Bormanis, took his Questar out to look at it the next day and he could not see the spot with his scope. It’s possible that it had not transited when he was out there with his scope, but I didn’t get get a chance to see it.
Ed: It’s definitely tough to spot. I understand you’re a member of the Planetary Society. Could you tell me a little about what drew you to that organization?
Tim Russ: I was invited as a guest to the gathering of the Planetary Society on the very night that the first rover landed successfully on Mars – Sojourner. And to watch the images that were sent back, and the signals that were sent back – that evening that was absolutely amazing. That was an incredible event to be able to attend, and the Planetary Society was partly hosting that, so I joined the Planetary Society shortly thereafter as a regular member and it was the first time we renewed our exploration of Mars sincerely.
Ed: Wow. That’s great. All right, I have to ask this: Have you worked with any other actors who were into astronomy?
Tim Russ: I have not associated with any other actors who were into astronomy, but I have gone out to view the stars in dark skies, many times, with André Bormanis who is a sci-fi writer. He wrote for Voyager and for Enterprise. Subsequently he’s writing for a new series now. So we go out on occasion to view.
Ed: Well that’s great. I tell you I have really enjoyed talking with you, Tim. I have one last question that I want to ask which is: What have you learned about astronomy or observing that you’d like to pass on to other folks?
Tim Russ: I think the main thing that I’d like to pass on to people about astronomy and some of the benefits of it… for the most part it is that the secrets of the Universe are all out there and it’s important for us to get a chance to understand what they’re all about. To be able to see some of these absolutely amazing objects, some of them, many of which they have seen from the Hubble in great detail, in color, you can actually see with the naked eye through an eyepiece. I think that’s absolutely fascinating. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a deep sky object. It can be a moon or a planet – many times when people look through my telescope at the Moon, or Saturn’s rings, and things like that, they are absolutely mystified by how clear and close-looking and bright these objects are, and how detailed they are, and they just can’t believe that in some cases they can actually see them well with a relatively small telescope. And I think I’ve actually turned some people on to astronomy and gotten them interested in going out and buying their own telescope just by virtue of what they’ve seen through mine.
Ed: That’s outstanding. Well, Tim, I thank you for your time. I’ve really appreciated the chance to talk to you and I’d like to wish you and everyone else listening, clear skies!
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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