Volunteer Spotlight | Justin McCollum

December 1, 2021
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The George Observatory could not have survived without numerous amateur astronomers over the years! We want to thank our many volunteers who continue to generously share their time and talents so that visitors may see images from a variety of telescopes and enjoy the night sky.

How and when did you get interested in astronomy?

Justin: I was a solitary child and the only solace was my family and the night sky. I was not aware of any astronomy clubs at the time so I would go to the library and look for every book on astronomy available there. My only tools were my eyes identifying the constellations, meteor showers, and other astronomical events.

How did you start volunteering at the George?

Justin: I moved to Texas from Oregon City, Oregon and made friends by building a social circle within the Astronomy clubs. I became a member of Fort Bend Astronomy Club and started volunteering at the Observatory in 2005. Later that year I began working on Saturday nights as a Building Manager. I have been with the George Observatory now for almost 17 years.

What is your background and hobbies?

Justin: I have a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Physics and an Associate’s degree in Data Science. I currently teach Physics and Astronomy at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. I also work part-time at Space Center Houston as an Education Instructor, and with ArielPartners out of New York as a Data Science Orbital Mechanics Specialist. My hobbies are astronomy, data science, swimming, hiking, and visiting natural parks.

What is one of your most memorable moments at the George?

Justin: On a moderately cool night just after closing time at the George Observatory, and lots of volunteers remained to observe the night sky. I ran the East Dome 18″ telescope that night using high power to show the Ring Nebula, attempting to pick out the central planetary star. A hot white dwarf in the constellation Lyra, it was a challenge to find due to being low in the sky about 10 degrees above the treetops. I had never before seen the central star so this was my first time – it was a success, and former George Observatory Director Barbara Wilson was there to confirm it!

Why should visitors come out to the George Observatory?

Justin: People should come to the George to appreciate the view of the night sky. It is so important to preserve the view of the night skies for everyone to see – it is a gateway to the Cosmos for future generations, and amateur astronomy is the best hobby to promote scientific literacy – as well as being fun.

Take a look back at our previous spotlight, Jeff Lepp.

The newly renovated George Observatory is now open to the public for nightly stargazing. Click here for upcoming dates.

Authored By Hannah Lange

Hannah Lange started observing the night skies as a child with her family at their family’s summer cottage in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, Canada. She has spent her life as an amateur astronomer, science teacher and tutor, and college astronomy professor. She is currently a Program Manager at the George Observatory, a satellite facility of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and shares her passion for the stars with as many people as she can.

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