Michael A. Stecker



Adam Block
Sahuarita, Arizona
(See additional photo below)

Contact information

Locator Map
Level of accuracy: town of
Sahuarita, Arizona

I was born in Warwick, RI in 1973. My family moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia when I was around 5 years old and this is where I spent most of my childhood. It is my understanding that even as a toddler I was interested in the night sky. My mother tells me I would say "goodnight" to the moon, even if it was not in the sky at the time. It was my grandfather who, after dinner, would take me on a short walks in New England and probably pointed out things in the sky
to me.

 As my interest grew, my parents took note and bought a toy-store refractor as my first telescope. As is often the case this kind of gift tends to act as a litmus test for a child's burgeoning interest. I obviously survived the frustrations of this telescope and continued to express my excitement about astronomy. When I was around 9 years old, my parents researched a bit more and discovered the company Edmund Scientific from which I would request many more "toys" over the years. From ES they purchased an 4.5in Astroscan (rich field reflector) and a small number of eyepieces. This was a wonderful first telescope from which I saw the rings of Saturn, the belts of Jupiter, star clusters, nebulae, comets (Halley), and even a few bright galaxies. A couple of years later they surprised me by getting an 8" Celestron telescope with a good selection of accessories. I would spend many cold hours painstakingly setting up this equipment on my driveway and learning the night sky. It was also at this time that I made my first attempts at astrophotography using film. The Astroscan and 8-inch Celestron telescopes are the only ones I own to this day.

 In school I qualified for and participated in special programs that emphasized science. It was at this time that I became involved in the activities of Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta which has a very large planetarium and a 36in telescope from which public programs are offered. Unlike my lonely driveway sessions, I found that I enjoyed sharing the night sky with others and I found that volunteering at Fernbank was a lot of fun. This marks the beginnings of my work in public outreach.

 After graduating from high school, I decided to attend the University of Arizona and continue studying astronomy (and physics). As a freshman I volunteered at Flandrau Planetarium and ran their 16in telescope for the public a couple of nights each week. Later I was hired to be a telescope operator for the 20in campus telescope at Steward Observatory. At this observatory 100 level students (non-majors) would sign up to observe at the telescope. It was our job to point at objects and explain what they were looking at; and the students, not always the most motivated, would sketch their views as part of the assignment. During this time I began to hone my ability to explain astronomical concepts at a variety of knowledge levels. I would eventually become the lead telescope operator at the observatory and administer special programs for the astronomy department.

One professor noted that I, and a few of my friends, were especially interested in using the telescope. For many months we had tried to capture images of deep sky objects using an ST4 CCD camera. I believe my first "successful" image with a CCD camera was of M57- even though it didn't look like much, I was incredibly impressed! The professor decided to purchase an ST6 camera and so began my imaging career.

 Also during this time I was Vice President of the University Astronomy Club and President of the Table Tennis Club (to this day I am a competitive and rated player). Eventually I became President of the Astronomy club and (with Jason Harris) refurbished an old observatory on Tumamoc Hill in the middle of Tucson. We installed a 16in newtonian reflector and finally the club had an official telescope which survives to this day!  While in college I also received the departmental teaching award and eventually graduated with a B.S. in Astronomy and Physics.  I decided not to pursue the PhD road and wound up working at a hardware store for 8 months after I graduated. After work I would drive out to Benson, Arizona and work with guests of Skywatcher's Inn for Dr. Ed Vega. His 20in Maksutov telescope was a wonderful instrument that I never tired of using.  

In November of 1996 I found out that Kitt Peak National Observatory was looking for someone to help run a new public observing program. I interviewed for the job and was hired on the spot. :) For the next nine years I would develop and craft the nightly observing programs (NOP) and create the successful ideology and proven approach to outreach that they enjoy today. While in this forum I am most well-known for my work in CCD imagery, my other less known forte is in the public speaking I did during that time.

 The all-night observing program and CCD imaging was a natural extension of the public presentations I was already giving. I developed the "Advanced Observing Program" and began learning the intricacies of CCD imagery with guests looking over my shoulder. From "Track and Accumulate" with the nearly blind early ABG ST7 to the ST10XME with an AO-7 through a 20in RCOS telescope, the journey was an exciting foray into instrumentation and astronomy. I have been lucky to observe under some of the best conditions on Earth and process the data to
reflect it.

 Today I am trying to continue a career in this field by building an observatory and offering my own public programs (please see my website). It is only with support of family and friends that I will ultimately succeed. My beautiful wife, Miwa, continues to be the reason I am able pursue my second most personal passion, astronomy- as my first is her.

Astronomy Tale
Anecdote: "Ah Nuts!"
On one starry night at Kitt Peak, the Advanced Observing Program was well underway. After setting the camera up to begin imaging our first object, I instructed the telescope to slew towards its final destination. After a few moments I heard sounds which elicit dread in the hearts of telescope operators everywhere. The strange noises began with a soft “bink clink clink clink” and ended with mysterious “somethings” falling to the floor with a definitive “plit plot!” Not wanting to look concerned in front of the paying customer; I silently held my breath and illuminated the floor with a flashlight. I fully expected to see small sprockets and gears glistening beneath my feet- but no hardware was there! I did find something though. Scattered on the floor were small acorns and I had no idea from whence they came! In disbelief I randomly moved the telescope in Right Ascension and, sure enough, more acorns fell to the floor. Inside the hollow of the east fork arm I found a collection of a dozen acorns. Moments later, after cleaning out the stash, a small mouse skittered up the pier and came to stop between my feet. For one brief moment we stared at each other and telepathically the mouse seemed to say with a sneer “Thanks a lot buddy!” Then the bold creature ran out of the observatory, never to be seen again.

Areas of interest
Public Speaking, CCD imagery, Image Processing, Taking an image of something for which a good one does not exist.

Astrophotography Publications
Arizona Highways, Arizona Republic (newspaper), Astronomie, Astronomy,
Beautiful Univers (S&T), Ciel et Espace, Coelum, Explore the Universe (Astronomy),
Polaris (a Czech Magazine), Sky and Telescope, Tucson Citizen (newspaper)
Images in Software Programs
Starry Night
Sun Kwok: Cosmic Butterflies
David DeVorkin: Beyond Earth;
Michael Bakich: Encyclopedia of Amateur Astronomy
Stephen O’Meara: The Caldwell Objects
William Waller: Galaxies and the Cosmic Frontier
Jane Peddicord: Night Wonders
Bruce Marcot: Owls in Mythology and Culture
Sarah Hannah: Longing Distance
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Images Published in Commercial Products:
National Optical Astronomy Observatory: Postcards
National Optical Astronomy Observatory: Observing Log
The Year in Space 2003 Desk Calendar: M104
2002 WeatherGuide Calendar of Phenomenal Weather Events
Selected Speaking venues
2006 February: Atlanta Astronomy Club -- Invited speaker
2006 January: Cincinnati Obsevatory -- Invited speaker
2005 November: Astronomical Imaging Conference -- Invited speaker
2003 November: Imaging The Sky Conference -- Invited speaker
2003 July: Let’s Talk Stars with David Levy -- Invited speaker
2002 November: Let’s Talk Stars with David Levy -- Invited speaker
2000 August: Oregon Star Party -- Keynote speaker
1997 July: Astronomical League Convention -- Keynote speaker
Special Appearances
Live Feed (Many Media Outlets) for July 4th, 2005 Deep Impact
The Today Show          2003 Mars Opposition    with David Levy
American Museum of Natural History Astrophysics Exhibit (Jan 2002) NGC 5713
Local Television Stations            (interviews and images)

     Astronomical Equipment
Edmund Scientific Astroscan
Celestron 8-inch SCT


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