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Meet Australia's Astronomer-At-Large

Meet Australia's Astronomer-At-Large

Meet Fred Watson, an astronomer who writes books, talks on radio and TV, co-hosts a weekly podcast called Space Nuts, and is Australia’s Astronomer-at-large! Fred’s new book, Spacewarp: Colliding Comets and Other Cosmic Catastrophes, is out now!

KZ: What inspired or influenced your decision to study astronomy?

F: It goes right back to my schooldays, because everyone was interested in space then, with the first satellites being put into orbit around the Earth. All my friends wanted to be either astronauts or astronomers, but eventually most of them went into more useful careers as engineers, doctors or teachers. I was star-struck from an early age, studied astronomy at university, and eventually became an astronomer. I kind of couldn’t help it.

KZ: What are the best and worst parts of your job?

F: The best part of my job is sharing my excitement about astronomy and science in general with anyone who will listen. Or anyone who will read my words and look at my pictures, as in Spacewarp, for example! The worst part is that I sometimes feel guilty that I have such a fun job. Don’t tell anyone, though.

KZ: Can you share an interesting behind the scenes fact about your job?

F: Yes – astronomers don’t look through telescopes! While many of them still enjoy looking through small telescopes at the Moon and planets, the real work of astronomy is done by electronic ‘eyes’ that are far better at detecting and recording faint stars and galaxies than ours are. So most astronomers using big telescopes spend their nights looking at computer screens, often in an office or laboratory that could be hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from their telescope. It’s a great use for the Internet.

KZ: What would K-Zoners be surprised to learn about you?

F: I’ve always been keen on music and used to be part of a band that did pretty well in the folk and blues clubs of Britain. I did guitar and vocals. Played with some people who later became very famous. I still do a bit, usually singing crazy science songs for science-minded audiences, and released a CD in 2008 to celebrate the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.

Want to read more of our interview with Fred Watson? Grab the February 2022 issue of K-Zone, on sale now!

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