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Talking comets with “The” Levy at UMKC

What I did for part of Monday evening October 27, was to spend it talking about comets with David Levy at the UMKC Miller Nichols Learning Center. David was invited to the university as part of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Warkoczewski Public Observatory. Wow – David Levy – an astronomy notable of our time: author of 34 books, discoverer of 22 comets and host of a radio program to talk about the stars and things astronomical with listeners.

David’s talk at UMKC lasted an hour or so; it was over much too quickly. He reminisced about his life as a comet chaser: growing up in Quebec Canada, sent to summer camp as kid and not liking it a bit, but then one year ending up at a youth science camp where a counselor challenged him to pick a hard difficult camp project to put together – one he couldn’t possibly finish while being there. After much thought David said his project was to be: hunting for comets.

The crowd roared with laughter at David’s announcement – telling him he wouldn’t find one in 20 years! 19½ years later David discovered his first comet, and then discovered 21 more using visual, digital and photographic techniques. After his talk David answered audience questions – including mine about the discovery of Shoemaker-Levy 9 and the special excitement it raised after learning the comet would be photographed colliding with Jupiter – which it did in 23 large pieces.

The audience enthusiastically applauded when David announced he was finalizing contract arrangements with UMKC to donate thousands of his viewing session notes to the university library. And at the end of his presentation David concluded by reminding people to continue being passionate about their interests and their hobbies, and to always keep “looking up” to enjoy the night sky majesty.

UMKC earlier made special mention of KC SLUG friend Joe Wright – presenting him with a plague in appreciation for the tons of hours Joe volunteered to the university astronomy program and to “The Warko”: UMKC’s Royal Hall roof-top observatory (which features a hand-made 16 3/8” diameter Newtonian that took Stanley Warkoczweski 9 years to build) and a new computerized 14” Schmidt Cassegrain. Many people still visit the WARKO for free viewing on clear May thru October Friday nights. Hats off to Joe AND to the UMKC astronomy program for helping us as David Levy says: “keep looking up”.