A Passion Written in the Stars
“First and foremost you must have the desire and the drive”
Rob Johnstone has been featured on CNN talking about the magic of Namibia’s night skies, he has his name on the planet Mars after he did work for NASA, he founded Space Observation Learning Namibia in 2009 and he also sat down with 99FM’s MYD Smart to talk about his business where he offers stargazing and astronomy education for the public at large and for the foreign visitors alike showcasing the wonders of the Namibian sky.
Rob was not always an astronomer but knew in his heart that this was his calling. The journey he followed to become the only professional astronomer based in Namibia that can travel the globe and hold star gazing tours anywhere in the world, was a long and difficult journey. It entailed him having to teach himself many of the principles that formed the basis for him to be able qualify as a professional astronomer.
99FM’s MYD Smart asked :
What does being an astronomer entail?
“First and foremost you must have the desire and drive to be an astronomer. It is not easy due to the working hours which are in the evening till very early in the morning and especially in the winter it can become bitterly cold to be outside. Astronomy is the study of the universe around us and finding out how it works and where we as the human species fit in in the whole grand scheme. When you see what is out there through large telescopes and one starts to understand distances involved and the size of things then one starts to realize how small and insignificant we really are in the whole grand universal scheme. So the best answer to what being an astronomer entails, it is to teach and show everyone where we fit in and how we understand that things work from a scientific field of perspective.”
What inspired you to become an astronomer?
“I saw Halleys Comet in 1986 and was fascinated by the spectacle, in those days there was no internet or computers so it was off to the library to find out what this sight was, after reading and finding out more I was hooked, and I knew that one day I was going to be an astronomer, so I followed my dream and my heart and eventually I fulfilled my dream and the rest is history as they say.”
“The biggest thrill for me is seeing the absolute joy and wonder on someone’s face, especially the kids, when viewing deep space objects through the telescope. It is one thing to read and look at pictures in a book, but nothing comes even close to the feeling of being out under the stars and looking through a telescope at those objects and seeing it with your own eyes. Some of my best feel good moments have been where adults have started to cry once viewing Saturn in the telescope, because the sight is just so breath-taking. To see the most wonderful planet in our Solar System with its ring system shining brightly in the blackness of space at a distance of over 1,3 billion kilometers away.”
You are a self-taught man, what was the process like to teach yourself?
“Teaching myself was somehow never a chore or a grudge process as I knew from an early age what I wanted to do, and if you have the drive and passion to do what you love and enjoy, then teaching yourself is basically a pleasure that you enjoy doing. Yes by no means was it easy, but the most amazing aspect about being self-taught is that once you learn it and apply it to your everyday life, then you get a greater appreciation of what you learn and also about what you learn about yourself in the process.”
“Through Practice, Practice, Practice and never giving up. Also, by reading and learning all the time, we will never know everything, especially in Astronomy where we still have many unanswered questions and still so much to learn.”
Tell us about your successes to date?
“Firstly the biggest privilege for me is being able to do my astronomy in Namibia as Namibia is officially the 2nd best viewing location in the world. The Namibian night sky is so beautiful clear and unobstructed with light pollution and other pollution that it is the envy of many astronomers all over the world.”
“CNN has also done a documentary on myself where I promoted Namibia as the premier star gazing destination in the world. From this many well-known and world famous people and celebrities have done star gazing with me under our beautiful night sky and I have been told on many many occasions that it was the highlight of their holiday.”
Take a look at the CNN piece on Rob Johnstone by clicking here : Stargazing in the desert: The magic of Namibia’s night skies
“I also have my name on the planet Mars inside the 2 Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity on a microchip. I did some research work for NASA as a volunteer in early 2000. When I submitted my notes and readings I received a thank you letter and a request to put my name on a microchip inside the Mars rovers, which I 100% said yes to. I still have the official certificates from NASA proudly displayed at home on my office wall.”
“I was also personally invited to visit the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)in Pasedena, California to be in the mission control room when the latest Mars rover Curiosity landed on the planet, however, I could not get there at the time and when I did go in November that year I was given a private tour of the facility and was shown all the off limit areas for the public. Awesome experience because the JPL is where the whole space programme was basically born.”
What advice would you have for Namibians about why we should appreciate our night sky?
“We are so blessed to have such awesome clear skies at night that we sometimes take it for granted, however, we must realize that our night sky is a natural treasure to be admired.”
“It came from Sir Richard Branson : Do what you love, love what you do the rest will take care of itself, happy is the man that can work and play at the same time.”
If you want to get in touch with Rob you can reach him through his company Space Observation Learning Namibia (SOLNA)
For more of Rob’s story and tales of the Namibian night sky, listen 99FM on Wednesday the 6th of April at 7pm for the MYD Show.