In the last few weeks, I’ve had several questions and comments from people wondering how long I feel I need to stay with my “day” job as opposed to writing and editing full time. Day is in quotes because in addition to writing and editing, I operate telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Arizona. It’s hard to think of something I do almost entirely at night as a day job!
Before I address that subject, I should back up and point out that I was a full-time writer and editor for seven years before I returned to Kitt Peak in 2008. The observatory management came to me and asked if I would return because there was a shortfall of qualified applicants to operate telescopes. I wasn’t looking for a job. The job came looking for me.
The reason I took the job and the reason I stay at the observatory is because I enjoy it. I like my co-workers and I feel I’m doing important work. Although space-based observatories get a lot of press, ground based observatories are essential for follow-up work and confirmation of those discoveries. The Kepler probe wouldn’t be credited for as many planet discoveries if it wasn’t for facilities like Kitt Peak following up. We provide the only 4-meter-class telescopes that some small university professors and students have access to. I help those professors and students make the most of their time on these telescopes.
In addition to work on exoplanets, we have been involved in looking at supernovae, which tell us a lot about the distance scales and acceleration of the universe (i.e. dark energy). We also look at things like gravitational lenses, where a distant galaxy re-images even more distant objects and tells us about the early universe. We also look at nearby objects such as planets and asteroids in our own solar system.
Sadly, working at Kitt Peak has meant that I have had to turn down some event appearances. It breaks my heart every time I have to do that. However, the extra money from the job has allowed me to make some other events that I might have had to turn down otherwise.
Looking at the big picture, there are some projects I’d like to pursue that are difficult to do with the time-constraints of the job. Because of that, I don’t envision remaining at the observatory until I retire (presuming retirement is even an option for my generation anymore). Even so, as long as the job remains amicable, my supervisors remain content with my performance, and I’m allowed to pursue my writing career as well, I don’t envision leaving in the immediate future, either.
I write because it’s something I have to do. I’m blessed that there are readers who enjoy my writing and follow it. I’m also blessed to have played a small role in the exploration of the universe and hope to continue to do so — at least for a little while longer.