Melanie Crowson set up her telescope in the side yard of the New River Branch Library on an evening in October and welcomed anyone with an interest to come take a peek at the stars.
In a sense, the young woman from Wesley Chapel was coming full circle.
“We actually used to go up to the New River Library when we were kids, and I would check out all of the astronomy books,” said the 23-year-old who aspires to become a professional astronomer.
Crowson enjoys sharing her love for astronomy at the occasional community viewing nights that she offers.
“It’s fun,” she said. As the viewing night approaches, she’s excited about sharing astronomy. When it’s over, it’s nice to relax.
She loves introducing others to the world of stars, planets and galaxies. She also enjoys talking with people who share her fascination with celestial bodies.
“You end up discussing some interesting theories,” Crowson said.
The astronomy student eventually wants to work at a planetarium or an observatory, and is taking online courses to pursue those aims through American Public University.
Crowson, who is a Christian, also hopes to use astronomy in connection with her spiritual life, too. She said she is getting to know God in a new light through her interest in astronomy. It’s driven her to learn more and hopes one day to help develop new scientific evidence of the existence of God.
People talk about loving God with their whole heart, Crowson said. She wants to make full use of her intellectual capabilities to love God with her whole mind, too.
Her fascination with celestial bodies began quite early in life.
“I think I’ve always been interested, since I was a real small kid,” Crowson said.
She recalls going on occasional rides during the dark early morning hours with her dad, who was delivering his newspaper route.
“It was really cool. We could see all of the stars,” Crowson said.
As she learned more about stars and planets, her fascination grew.
Crowson, who was home-schooled, said her parents encouraged her to pursue her curiosity about the heavens.
During her high school years, she and her dad ran across a book that provided instructions for building a telescope. They decided to take on the challenge.
She chronicled the project in a manual she titled, “Closer To The Stars: Detailed Instructions for Building Your Own Telescope.”
It took about two years to build the telescope and it cost about $1,000. It would have been cheaper to buy a telescope, but then she would have missed out on valuable lessons, Crowson said.
Building the telescope helped her better understand how it works, she said. It also gave her a chance to apply math in real life.
“We used math to figure out sizes, distances, making sure the corners lined up,” Crowson said.
If something goes wrong with her telescope, she also knows how to fix it.
“We built it so that we know where everything is. I know exactly what every screw is there for and what it does, what it’s holding together,” Crowson said. “I know which parts I can take apart. If I need to replace anything, I know everything about it.”
Having community viewing nights gives Crowson a way to share what she loves and offers an opportunity to inspire others. She hopes people who come to peer through her telescope will enjoy what they see.
She also hopes it piques their curiosity.
“Maybe it will make them wonder: What’s out there? How was it made? Was it really a Big Bang? Make them question it a little bit more,” she said.
Maybe gazing through the telescope, the experience “will bring them closer to God,” she said.