40 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY April 4-10, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com FACE TO FACE Dr. Bruce Weaver has spent a lot of chilly nights awake on Chews Ridge in Los Padres National Forest looking at the stars. This is not the actual work of an astronomer—it’s to adjust the sensitive instrumentation every 15 minutes, making sure the telescope is properly centered—but it’s those minutes in between that become hours. “I spent many nights doing nothing, just staring up at the sky, going wow,” he says. Of course, things have changed. Instrument adjustments can be done remotely now. Weaver says he was deliberately slow to make the transition: “I knew I would miss sitting there, with nothing to do, just looking up.” The real work comes after the observations, when the data is crunched and analyzed. Weaver was an early adopter of artificial intelligence, and the kind of scholar who seems to remember every data point he’s ever studied—even as a student, he says, he never took notes. Thanks to the career of his paleontologist father, Weaver moved around a lot as a kid, all over the world—Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, California. These days, Weaver is the director of the nonprofit Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA), which operates a lab in Marina and an observatory on Chews Ridge. He spoke to the Weekly in anticipation of an upcoming solar eclipse on April 8. Weekly: You’ve led tours in various places around the world to be in the path of totality. What’s it like? Weaver: You have to go see a total eclipse some time in your life. We got a phone call from a guy who had been on one tour in the Caribbean, and now he is addicted. Our last tour was in central China, and it got clouded out. We hired a bus at 3am, and at 4am loaded everyone up as fast as we could to get [out of the clouds]. Will you be watching the partial eclipse that can be viewed from Monterey County on April 8? Only about one-third of the sun will be blocked. A partial solar eclipse is like, who cares? I care! But back to the early days of your career, before you were leading trips to see totality: You and some fellow graduate students in Cleveland ended up creating MIRA and building the observatory on Chews Ridge in 1972. How did that happen? We decided we wanted to do research as opposed to teaching and we thought we could just go do it ourselves. This was the real ’60s, a DIY era. At the time, Lick Observatory [near San Jose] said, we have to get out of a light-polluted area, we need another place. They determined the best was Junipero Serra Peak [but environmental obstacles, such as the need to build a road, prevented it from proceeding]. We looked around nearby and found Chews Ridge, a little to the north. We didn’t have any money, so we were not going to build a road, but it was on Tassajara Road. We asked the Forest Service if we could have a little patch of it. They said sure. With machetes, we cut a little path to start surveying it. Is it still a good place for observation? Even at Chews Ridge, the light from the Salinas Valley is starting to cause problems. There’s no place so remote you can go where a city won’t grow up around you. How did you get into the field of astronomy? Astronomers come in two or three different flavors. One, they come from physics, because physics is sort of boring. Another one is they’re just compulsive astronomers. In my case, I was 8 years old in Venezuela, and saw the night sky for the first time—really registered it. I went “Wow, that is so cool.” Later, of course, there is calculus and quantum mechanics. You chose not to teach, but your career has included teaching. High school seniors don’t recognize the Milky Way. They are now disjointed from 1 million years of human beings. Cavemen knew much more about it than they do. You designed your own astrological chart, incorporating the wobble of the Earth’s axis, and now I see I’m no longer a Sagittarius, but Ophiuchus. That’s really unsettling to me. I was careful not to be exactly accurate. I don’t want to start a new religion. A partial solar eclipse will be viewable locally from 10:11am-12:16pm on Monday, April 8, peaking at 11:12am. View it safely through glasses, available for $2.50 from MIRA, 200 Eighth St., Marina. 883-1000, mira.org. Head in the Clouds Astronomer Bruce Weaver has spent a lifetime in awe of the sky. He made his fascination into a career. By Sara Rubin “In its time scale, our Milky Way Galaxy is a violent, turbulent mash of catastrophic events on all scales,” Bruce Weaver wrote in a recent newsletter, expressing his awe of the sky. DANIEL DREIFUSS SHEENA Sheena is a 6-year-old pro cuddler with a heart full of love who just wants to be around her special human. 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