Guest Blog: Dean Regas on The New Star Gazers

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dean Regas, a longtime friend and contributor to Astronomy, is now one of the hosts of the new Star Gazers, the PBS show that brings you great sky observing info and is the successor to Jack Horkheimer’s Star Gazer. Here is a great story Regas forwarded about the new show!

On location with the new Star Gazers in Reno, Nevada, with (l. to r.) Dean Regas, Marlene Hidalgo, writer/producer Bill Dishong, and executive producer Jack Kelly (standing). Credit: Dean Regas
The new Star Gazers: A new twist on an old favorite show


“Hey there Star Gazers!” This is the phrase James Albury and I use when we welcome you to the new Star Gazers astronomy program. Available on most PBS stations, this bite-sized astronomy show challenges you to get outside and experience the night sky wherever you are. The program is a continuation of the iconic astronomy weekly, Star Gazer, made famous by the late Jack Horkheimer. Jack would appear for either one-minute or five-minute segments when you least expected to learn astronomy — late night, early morning, or after BBC shows that didn’t fill an entire hour. And there you’d find this mustachioed guy with a unique voice, sitting on a light beam in outer space telling you where to find Saturn, Mars, and Zubenelgenubi. That was Jack.

After Jack passed away in August 2010, the show continued with various guest hosts until September 2011. The producers of Star Gazer, WPBT2 in Miami, Florida, decided to reformat the show, update the graphics, and feature three hosts instead of one. Thus, Star Gazers was born.

I share hosting duties of the reimagined PBS television segments with James Albury, director of the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium in Gainesville, Florida. An additional Star Gazer, Marlene Hidalgo, a special-education teacher at St. Brendan High School in Miami, Florida, has been recording versions in English and Spanish that are available on the Web.

Each week, we will bring you a one-minute and five-minute version of “What’s Up” in the sky. We have a new theme song, logo, and intro to the five-minute versions. Instead of the light beam, we use hoverboards to fly around the universe and point out especially cool highlights. The content is pretty much the same, although we will zoom in on at least one object per week to give you more in-depth coverage of an object or event. In the old days (last year), we did everything on the fly — with graphics added as we were speaking. Now all of it is done in front of a green screen with the effects added in post-production. Plus, with two hosts, we can make the program a conversation rather than an astronomy lesson.

James Albury had started watching Star Hustler (the original name of the show) when it first aired in 1976. “I thought Jack was awesome,” James said. “As a teenager, I worked as a console operator at the Miami Space Transit Planetarium where he was the director. I definitely had the coolest job of any of my friends — I was able to operate a quarter-of-a-million-dollar star projector before I could even drive a car!” He was a perfect fit for the job as Star Gazer. “Not only am I able to share my love of the night sky with the world,” James said, “but I can help carry on Jack Horkheimer’s legacy and hopefully spark a sense of wonder in young star gazers, just as Jack did for so many of us.”

We didn’t think it would be possible, but we may have even increased the geekiness of the show. With my penchant for obscure star names and mythology and James’ quirky sense of humor, they might have to tone us down. For example, “Makeup is something I had to get used to,” James said. “Since I'm bald, they also applied the powder to the top and sides of my head. The funniest part to me was that the powder that best matched my skin color looked surprisingly like martian soil. So I asked them if one week we could have a face painter paint the Tharsis Ridge and Valles Marineris on the back of my head.” That’s what you have to look forward to when you visit our website: http://www.stargazersonline.org/.

In addition to the weekly Star Gazers programs, our team took the show on the road to Reno, Nevada. There, Marlene and I recorded a live webcast of the total lunar eclipse December 10, 2011. With the help of our hosts, KNPB (Reno’s PBS station), we gave a running commentary, answered questions from viewers around the globe, and interviewed some special guest eclipse chasers. “This was so unlike anything I had ever done before,” Marlene said. “I was so excited to actually be able to see firsthand and share with the viewers. I was amazed by the amount of viewers who shared their questions and comments with us through phone calls, emails, and Twitter. The best part about it was getting questions from young children. It really made me feel like we are inspiring the younger generation to love science and become fascinated with the cosmos.”

Marlene also heard the call for a new Star Gazer host and sent in a video audition. She did such a great job that the team is now up to three Star Gazers. Marlene has translated many of our episodes into Spanish due to our quickly growing base of Spanish-speaking viewers in both the U.S. and Latin America. Look for these shows and all of the episodes on the Miami Science Museum’s YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/MiamiScienceMuseum.

Next, we hope to produce another webcast for the big events in 2012. First, we may be going back to Reno to see the annular eclipse of the Sun May 20. The path of annularity will go right through Reno. And on June 5, 2012, we may be heading west again to bring you the ultra-rare transit of Venus.

But please don’t just watch the sky from a TV or computer screen. Get out there and see it for yourself. And remember, “Keep looking up!”

Dean Regas is the Outreach Astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory and blogs at: http://www.cincinnatiobservatory.org/deanspace.html. You can reach him at dean@cincinnatiobservatory.org.

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