Date: September 8, 2010

Title: Discovering the Beauty of the Sky


Podcaster: Alexis Dwyer, Janet Barajas, Drew Olvey, and Micol Christopher


Description: Three introductory astronomy students share their own personal encounters with the beauty of the sky. Alexis Dwyer describes her experience stargazing away from the lights of the city; Janet Barajas discusses the way that the purchase of a telescope has brought her family closer together as they share “picnics with the moon”; and Drew Olvey accounts his encounter with the beauty of the Northern Lights.

Bio: Alexis Dwyer, Janet Barajas, and Drew Olvey were introductory astronomy students last semester at Mt. San Antonio College, a 2-year public university located 30 miles east of Los Angeles, California. As part of a class project, they read and reported on 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts and finished the semester by writing their own original podcasts. That work is presented here. His professor was Dr. Micol Christopher, a tenured Professor of Astronomy at Mt. San Antonio College. He has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology and has been teaching at Mt. San Antonio College full-time for 5 years.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the NASA Lunar Science Institute at, proud co-Founders of International Observe the Moon Night, around the globe on September 18th. More information at


Hi! My name is Micol Christopher, and I am a professor of astronomy at Mt. San Antonio College, a two-year school in Walnut, California, about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. As part of their work last semester, students in my introductory astronomy classes read and reported on podcasts from the 365 Days of Astronomy website. Their culminating activity was to write their own podcast on any topic in astronomy that interested them. What you will hear today are portions of the podcasts from three of my students who share their own personal experiences with the beauty of the night sky.

First you will hear from Alexis Dwyer, who will share about one magical night of stargazing in Central California.

Hello, my name is Alexis Dwyer and I am a student a Mt. San Antonio College. I am not an Astronomy major, let alone a physical or biological science major. I just have a very big interest in Astronomy, and the life up in the skies that is still full of mysteries. The Astronomy class I took this past semester has served as a great outlet for my interest, however, there is another class that I took that has some great memories that have to do with Astronomy. Bio 6, Humans and The Environment with Craig Petersen takes the prize for the most influential class I have taken at Mt. Sac. There were many things I learned throughout that class about life, and the environment around us.

The lecture class also had a lab that I took together. The lab was the fun part because we got to go on a field trip each week and we also had one 3-day camping trip one weekend in the semester. That camping trip was the biggest part of the class, it changed and helped shape my life in just one weekend. The camping trip took place in Central California, and the specific experience I am going to talk about took place at the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

It was the second and final night of the trip and we were getting ready to go on a night ride. We weren’t able to bring flashlights or anything but hats and gloves to keep warm. We all piled into the back of a truck which had big lights that we would use to point out different animals we were looking for. At one point our professors acted like the truck had broken down, which was of course staged. We didn’t know this till later though. The whole class went out to the huge empty field next to where we stopped. It was a really magical time. In this area there is absolutely no light pollution and the sky looks amazing. There are so many stars and it is extremely different from the urban atmosphere we have all become accustomed to.

As we were all lying there in a circle my professor asked who had never seen a shooting star. If I remember correctly there were one or two people who had never seen one so our mission was to help them find one and see their first shooting star. Of course, it didn’t take long since we were in such a dark area. I remember laying there and just taking in the experience and admiring all the stars, not knowing much about what I was looking at but still being amazed. I go back and think about that night and I can picture everything perfectly in my mind. I have had an interest in Astronomy since I was a little girl but I have never had the chance to do something that magical.

I have always seen space and the stars as a kind of magic. Not because it’s something that I know I will never quite understand fully, but because of the beauty and easy access to see something so magical. I am very fortunate to be able to have these experiences and the appreciation. One of my favorite places to take my sisters on a clear night is the mountains and I can see their appreciation for the great mysteries of the sky develop more with each visit.

Micol: Thanks Alexis. Next you will hear from Janet Barajas, who will share how the purchase of a telescope has helped bring their family closer together.

Hi! My name is Janet Barajas, a student at Mt. San Antonio College and I am currently taking an Introduction to Astronomy course. I believe that the moon, the sky, the stars and the visible planets can bring a family together. On Christmas day I bought my husband his first refracting telescope, for he had previously taken astronomy 5 class (introduction to astronomy) and was really fascinated by the subject; in addition, he had convinced me to take an astronomy 5 class, for he promised that I would enjoy every minute of it.

Even though, he was not a professional astronomer he indeed was an amateur astronomer who is fascinated by the sky, the moon, the stars and the planets; therefore, he loves taking his telescope out in the night to observe the beautiful sky. One night I notice that my son went outside and stood next to his dad. At that point his dad picked him up and sat him on his lap and told him “Noah you have to look through the hole to see the moon” Noah was only 1 year old. Every day around 9 p.m. my husband would take out his telescope and tell us (my son and I) to join him, before I knew it my family was having a “picnic with the moon”. For my husband would always show us the “craters on the moon” and “the rabbit” on the moon and showed my son and me how beautiful the moon can be; in addition, he would explain to us the moon had “seas” before, however, they were not regular “water seas” but indeed were “lava seas” that existed on the side of the moon called “Maria”. Every time we would go outside my son would look up at the sky point at the moon and with excitement he would say “mommy moon” my respond would be, yes baby that is the moon, and we will come outside at 9:00 p.m. and have daddy tell us a story.

Before I knew it my family was becoming closer, and we would regularly go outside sit in our chairs and enjoy the view of the sky, the moon, the stars and even some of the planets that were visible at that time. Astronomy was bringing my family closer as everyday went by, my son a one year old, understood and was fascinated by the beautiful outlook of the sky, the moon and the stars. My family and I imagine how it could be to have a picnic in the moon; however, we did not realize that we are already having a picnic with the moon in our Earth home. Our family picnic with the moon and the sky has been going on for almost a year; astronomy has brought my little family together. For those who want to have a hobby that family members will enjoy buy a telescope and observe the sky, so you can also have a family picnic with the moon.

Thanks Janet. The final podcast excerpt today comes from Drew Olvey, who shares about his encounter with the wonder of the Northern Lights.

It was a cold, quiet night around 3 am in the British Columbian wilderness when my life was changed. My brother and I canoed out into the middle of the lake and it was there that we got to experience an outstanding spectacular of nighttime amazement! The ‘Northern Lights’ was close enough for us to grasp! Nothing was more breathtaking, more magical, more inspirational, and more emotional than breathing in the Earth’s Aurora. Beauty and majesty absolutely filled our eyes with the bright dancing lights in the Canadian mountains. It was quiet, calm, and absolutely surreal to be able to see what natural beauty our own planet possessed. At first, we waited and waited. We knew that it would have to be dark, and calm. We had the perfect night for it, we just had to wait until the lights were ready to stop being so shy. Finally a huge flash of green and blue bolted across the sky like lightning. Following, fading in came waves of blue, and purple. These colors blended together and danced in synchronization as if they’d had years of practice. I will never forget the sights that I saw for as long as I live because nothing will ever compare to the wonder, and the mystery of something so incredible.

For some people, there are only limited things that can grab and hold their own attention. It is impossible for a walk in the park or a book in a library to sustain an enjoyable experience. Unless there are flashy lights, loud music, and pies in the face, many people won’t or refuse to be entertained by such things. Although many people prefer the latest blockbuster, nothing was more memorable than experiencing the Northern Lights in person.

I think it is extremely necessary that people strive to take part in enjoying what the Earth has to offer. No entertainment is better than free entertainment, and I would spend a fortune just to be able to see the Northern Lights again! The Northern Lights make nature what it is; more awesome than anyone could possibly describe!

I hope that you have enjoyed listening to these very personal accounts of how astronomy is touching people’s lives and opening them up to the beauty of the universe. Thanks and have a great day!

End of podcast:

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