TAEM interview with Astronomer David Levy

TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine and The Eerie Digest is truly honored to be able to present astronomer David Levy to all of our readers. We recently expanded our publication to include a ‘Science Section’ so that students in all the Colleges that we are seen in could gain further insight in the world around them. David, we understand that astronomy was not your major study in college, but rather English Literature. Tell us about your education on that subject.

DL- I became passionately interested in English Literature after learning from my Dad that when one opens a novel or a book of poems or a play, one is invited to enter the author’s living room.  “This is what my world was like,” I imagine myself hearing in such a situation.  In 1976, while watching a display of Lyrid meteors, I made the connection between literature and the night sky that has now carried me through two advanced degrees.

TAEM- You developed an interest in astronomy at a young age and as a young man you had a fascination with comets. Please tell us about this.

DL-  I began comet hunting on December 17, 1965.  It has been my primary observing interest ever since.

TAEM- Please describe your first acquaintance with the Shoemakers that forged an important relationship with them for an important event that occurred some years later.

DL-  We were observing together on  test run using the 16-inch Schmidt on Mt. Bigelow.  On the way back I asked them tentatively if they would be interested in having me observe with them.  Our collaboration began a few months later, Summer 1989,a few days after my discovery of Comet Okazaki-Levy-Rudenko, and it lasted until June 1996.

TAEM- In 1994 a momentous occurrence helped gain the interest of scientists all over the world. Please describe the event and the comet that, in part, immortalized your name in the annals of science.

DL-  It is impossible to describe it briefly.  Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was not a famous comet for what it was, but for what it did.  It was the first time humanity witnessed a collision event between two large objects in our solar system.

TAEM- How has this had an effect on astronomy and earth science ?

DL-  In many ways, some of which we still have not understood.  Most of all, I know it has inspired a group of people to develop an interest in science, some of whom have gone on to become professional astronomers.

TAEM- With the event of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 how has it generated such a deep interest in comet watching ?

DL-  I am not sure.  I would like to think that it has inspired people to pay more attention to the night sky and all it offers.

TAEM- With a new respect for comets and asteroids, what is the speculation of more of them striking earth, and what would a possible impact mean for our species ?

DL-There is no question that some day, Earth will get hit by an asteroid or comet.  In the wake of S-L 9, the new programs like Pann-Starrs have sprouted.  Comets like ISON, scheduled o reach the inner solar system by the end of 2013, might be a result of the increased awareness of the sky thanks to S-L 9.

TAEM- What would be the odds of this happening, and over what period could this possibly occur ?

DL-  In the short term, many young people have been inspired to look skyward.  I hope this continues over the longer term.

TAEM- We understand that you have also written a number of books: ‘The Quest for Comets’, ‘Skywatching’, ‘Shoemaker by Levy’, and ‘A Guide to Skywatching’. Please describe these books for our student readers, and where they can find them.

DL- The best place is to look at places like amazon.com and see what books I have.  They are also in libraries around the world.

TAEM- We learned that you also contributed article to my favorite science magazine, Sky and Telescope. Tell us about some of the articles that you shared with its readers.

DL-  For twenty years I wrote Star Trails, a column in S&T about the observing experience and people I’ve met along that road.  Editor Rick Fienberg wrote a beautiful editorial hoping that the column would last another 20 years, but then he retired and the new editor scrapped it.  For two years I wrote a column called “Evening Stars” for Astronomy.  Today I still contribute occasionally.

TAEM- Tell us about some of the television shows that you also appeared on and the recognition that both you, and the Shoemakers, have been awarded.

DL-  The most successful one was “Three Minutes to Impact”, a York Films production that won the writing team, including me, an Emmy.  Many other TV outlets have interviewed me, especially the program, Arizona Illustrated, and most recently the Buckmaster Show in Tucson.  I enjoy these programs.

TAEM- Your contributions to science have been legendary, but you have also become recognized for your humanitarian efforts with your dedication to such organizations as the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Please tell us about this aspect of your life.

DL-Shortly after I became science editor at Parade Magazine, my wife Wendee and I became involved with MDA.  For several years we did a “Telescopes for Telethon” fundraiser star party for them.  That event evolved into our own fundraiser for our National Sharing the Sky Foundation.  We have done this annually for about a decade or more.

TAEM- Where do you see science, and astronomy in particular, heading for in the next ten years ?

DL-  I would like to see an increasing groundswell of interest, particularly from young people.  It is very gratifying to go to a star party, like the ones we do monthly at a nearby school, and have kids come to me and say they were inspired by my work to pay attention to the night sky.  That is the grandest reward of all.

TAEM-David, as a teenager I also had an acute interest in astronomy long before Carl Sagan became a household name. In my early years I was able to work on the LEM project as a employee with Grumman Aerospace, and Star Trek  also captured my attention when it appeared on television. You have proven to be my hero in this field.

I am deeply honored that you have spent time with us in this interview. and my readers and I hope to hear more of you in the future. I am truly humbled that you have appeared in our magazine and wish you much luck in all that you do.