Will Young: A Guidestar Interview

Original article appears in GuideStar June, 2012.
Interview by Clayton Jeter

Clayton JeterI meet the nicest people at the many star parties around the country. A good example is running up on Will Young and his wife, at last month’s Hodges Gardens party near Many, Louisiana. Will was set up on the field with his Meade ‘LightBridge’ Dobsonian, not too far from me. As we chatted about his telescope, I asked him where he lived. Not only was he from Beaumont…another Texan at this Louisiana star party, and a member of the ‘Astronomical Society of South East Texas’ (ASSET), but he’s their new President. What a pleasant surprise to meet him there. We spoke for half an hour or so and he told me all about ASSET and what’s new with their group.

I then asked him if he’d like to be interviewed and it took him about 8 seconds to say “Yes”. We both agreed that folks in HAS could learn a bit more about what’s going on in the Beaumont area.

I’m happy to introduce Will Young to all of you here in the GuideStar. You’re going to enjoy what Will has to say. Here’s Will…

The Will Young bio…

I guess my first memory of astronomy would have to be Halley’s Comet. I was barely three years old but somehow I can remember seeing it, being held in my mother’s arms. It’s probably more of a reinforced memory than anything. It does seem very real to me though. I got really started into astronomy at about age 9. I was fascinated by these bright objects at night and wondered what they were and how they got there. So from nine years old on, I began learning the night sky. The first item on the agenda was the constellations. I didn’t have a telescope or even binoculars, but what I did have was two eyes with 20/20 vision. So I began to learn all I could from what I was seeing at night. My parents would buy me books and planispheres to keep me interested. If I had to guess I’d say Orion was my first confirmed constellation. From there, I moved into the other obvious ones and on to the harder ones.

As time went on I got inventive. At one point, I had taped an old pair of bino’s to an even older tripod to get the best views I could. After years of frustration with that setup, slowly astronomy lost its grip on my life. Through the latter teen years and college I did more “research” astronomy than observational astronomy. I never gave up on it, I just changed my focus. I’ve watched more documentaries on space than Neil deGrasse Tyson has appeared in! In college, I focused more on music and playing guitar and recording songs and such, but I still loved astronomy and longed for a good scope. In 2009, I bought my first telescope. I had waited a long time simply because the money was tight as a young adult. My first scope was a Celestron First Scope reflector. The bug had bitten me and had become a monster, waiting to burst out. After several star parties and joining the Astronomical Society of South East Texas in 2009, I finally chose my main “ride”. A 12 inch Meade Lightbridge. The rest is history in the making.

It seems now that I do more astronomy than music. As with all hobbies, shifts do occur. My love for astronomy will always trump my other interests. It’s an extremely humbling and enjoyable hobby. It can put your existence into a perspective that allows you to see how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things but at the same time, how important we are. We are the universe and the universe is in us. It’s a fascinating concept. I’ve met some of the greatest people in the world doing this, and I’m meeting more and more each time. After only two or so years of being in the Astronomical Society of South East Texas, I was asked to run for the presidency. I wasn’t sure if I was qualified, but I took the challenge head on and things are running smooth. My astronomy focus now is more toward the “faint fuzzies” and strange and obscure objects. Currently I am working toward my Caldwell Award and have received my Lunar 1, Outreach and Messier Awards. Recently I finished the Bino Messier and Sunspotters Awards as well. My goal is to be a Master Observer before I’m 35. So that gives me about seven years. I think it’s a worthy goal and at my current pace, I am well on my way. I also love doing the outreach part of our hobby. Showing someone something they have only read about or seen in pictures is always a treat. I feel like if we can inspire the next generation, we can make an impact in the world that other hobbyist cannot. It’s truly rewarding and worth every hour spent under the skies. Well, that’s about as brief as I can get. Great things are coming in astronomy and I want to be on the frontlines when it does.

The Will Young interview interview…

Clayton: It was great seeing you again at the Hodges Gardens star party in Louisiana.too for taking the time out for this interview.

Let’s kick this off by asking you about your obsession with astronomy. How did this passion develop?

Will: Thanks, Clayton and it was great to see you again as well. As far as I can remember, I have been looking up in wonder. It has always fascinated me what was above us and I’ve always had the drive to learn as much as I can about it. I was 11 when Shoemaker-Levy 9 hit Jupiter and I remember being in awe seeing the scars in pictures. At the time, I didn’t realize that events like that would shape my obsession. So I guess, it was one brick at a time.

Will Young

Clayton: Congratulations on being elected president of “ASSET” in Beaumont. I know you were voted into that position, but how did you get into the driver’s seat? What’s new in the club?

Will: I joined ASSET in 2009. I had no idea there was an astronomy club in town. I did a Google search randomly one day and found this group. Lonnie, Howard and a few members started approaching me with the idea of being the president. At first, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to commit to something of that caliber. Now that I am in full gear, it’s not as tough as I thought. In fact, I have learned even more about the technical side of astronomy and how to bring astronomy to the public. That’s one of my main goals is to help the club grow and get more people involved.

Clayton: Is the ASSET group growing in membership? Do you guys strive for any sort of public outreach?

Will: Absolutely! Our meetings have been steadily growing. We had eight visitors and two families join at our last meeting. We are seeing a trend of younger astronomers coming through. Not only coming to the meetings and joining but becoming active and volunteering when they can. That’s everything you can ask for in new membership! Outreach is one of our main focuses and a top priority for me. I have a blast showing people something they have only seen on the internet or TV. It is very rewarding.

Clayton: Are the Beaumont dark skies diminishing rapidly? Any ideas on how to save our night skies from the ever encroaching light pollution?

Will: Yes, the light pollution is getting worse around my place, if that’s even possible. Refineries are on all sides and we all know how inefficient they are with their lighting. We have plans in place to contact refineries in the area and help them see that they are losing thousands of dollars. A good friend of mine, Kelly Taylor, is an expert on light pollution and we have been devising a plan of action to show these businesses how they are not only losing money but hurting the environment at the same time. Very few people realize the damage even one mercury vapor light can inflict on birds, air quality and human sleep patterns. It a serious problem that is rapidly growing and it will take all of us to take action before we see results.

Clayton: Tell us a bit about your astronomy. Where are you going with this hobby?

Will: Well, for now, it’s only a hobby. Recently, however, it seems like more of a second job. I have had to put music on the backburner for now just to keep up. I welcome that change of pace and still make time to write new music and work with others. In fact, I am working on an album with a friend specifically for astronomers. Sort of an ambient, spacey, mystical style to inspire astronomers while they observe or work on photos they took the night before. We aren’t sure about a release date yet but we are hoping for summer. I’d love to explore the idea of a bigger dob and some better eyepieces in the near future. This will be a lifelong thing so I’m hoping to upgrade as I go along.

Clayton: Astrophotography; once bitten… you’re hooked. Any picture taking with camera-telescope?

Will: Always. I use my iPhone. If I am out observing something bright like the moon or the sun I try to take some video or pictures to play with later. At one point my wife suggested that I start a website to post all those pictures, so we did — www.iphoneastronomy.com. It’s a website dedicated to a-focal photography. Some of the images you can produce with these cell phones these days are incredible. I also do a ton of DSLR work as well. Mostly star trails and open shutter work. I also have those pictures posted on the site. Any iPhone users are encouraged to send their photos to me and I will post and give them credit. It’s a fun way to meet new people and to have a keep sake that you can look at years from now. Eventually, I will own a clock driven light bucket with a multi-thousand dollar CCD, but for now, this is more than fine!

Clayton: What are you hunting? Got a favorite object?

Will: The Ghost of Jupiter. Right now, I’m working on the Caldwell award. So far, I love all the ones I have been able to see. I’m a fan of planetary nebulae and the faint fuzzy galaxies so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite galaxy but if I had to, I’d say NGC 4565, the Needle Galaxy. The edge on galaxies are always a “wow” object for me. One day, I’d like to find a comet or a supernova, but I need some new equipment before I can make that happen.

Clayton: How would you like to see your own astronomy grow?

Will: More scopes, eyepieces and contacts like you. I learn much just from being around more seasoned astronomers and that is the best part. You can’t put a price on the advice and knowledge from others. I recently got a chance to co-host a radio show with my friend Francis Walsh, who is from the north Houston area, and we interviewed Robert McNaught. That is a name most of you should recognize. He is a comet and asteroid hunter from Australia and a super nice guy. I’d like to see myself work with and communicate more with people like that. Astronomy is all about knowing where to look and what to look for, so I have much to learn!

Clayton: I’d like to know a little about your telescope(s). Do you feel that goto scopes are a tad bit cheating in finding your way around our night sky?

Will: Well, I think there are two sides to that argument. I’m not sure if its cheating but for someone like me, I enjoy the hunt. I own a 12” light bridge and I love it. To me, it’s more about aperture than the goto. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a nice RC on a Astro-Physics or Paramount, but the budget doesn’t make room for that. Yet, I feel that both do the job they are tasked to and different set-ups work for different people. I want both! Nothing can com-pare to knowing your constellations and learning the night sky manually. I en-courage all beginners to grab a star chart and spend some hours learning the basics, doing that will basically clear the path and make things easier.

Clayton: It seems in recent years that the younger people are not that interested in amateur astronomy, or any of the sciences. Are you attaining any young club members? How can we turn this around?

Will: For a while I felt that trend was true but now, seeing what I’m seeing, I am on the fence about that issue yet again. I feel like this whole 2012 related non-sense is compelling people young and old to inquire more about astronomy, which is a great thing. We have to be careful not to give false or vague an-swers and try to break it down so every-one can understand. We regularly do star parties for local schools and organi-zations and it seems that the interest is growing. I don’t necessarily see a spe-cific age group that is more interested than others. It varies from event to event but I will say we are gaining strength in our club in the 20 to 30 year range. Really, the only thing we can do to encourage the next generation of astronomers is get out and show them what’s up. Hopefully the first time they see Saturn or the moon will stick with them for years. It did for me.

Clayton: Do you have any helpful advice to pass on to observers just starting out in astronomy?

Will: Always look up! Every time I step out-side, that’s the first thing I do. Ask your-self, “what star is that?”, grab a star chart and try to figure it out. That is basically how I started. Learn your planets and learn how to dis-tinguish them from the stars. Study star charts even during the day and that night, go and see if you can find them. You may surprise yourself!

Clayton: Is there an email address that you have that a Houston Astro-nomical Society member could contact you for an additional question or two?

Will: Absolutely! Anytime. I’m also available for club talks and I visit The George Observatory as much as I can.

Clayton: Thanks Will for taking the time to share your interest and thoughts within our HAS newsletter, the GuideStar. We wish you luck with all of your astronomy interests. Please come visit our society when in the Houston area, we’d love to see you.

Will: I’d love to and plan to make it out one day. Astronomy is a huge world and we still have much to discover!

Clayton: Clear skies always,

Will: And clear skies to you and your club! Thanks, Clayton for the good conversation at Hodges and for this interview. I hope to get to chat again soon!

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