This article appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin
A longtime stargazer, sophomore Joseph Pinto ‘19
enrolled at Tower Hill this fall and started an astronomy club for Upper School students. Sharing his interest with others, he gathers club members during the school day and some late evenings to use the Wuerstle Family Telescope in the DeSantis Family Observatory.
What is it about astronomy that is so interesting to you?
I like thinking big! The universe is just so vast, and there are so many unknown answers and mysteries in space. No one knows what dark matter or dark energy are, so there are many questions that can still be answered. I feel that one of the problems that turns people away from science is they feel like everything is already known, which it definitely isn’t. In astronomy, it’s easy to see that. I really like the idea that I can find an answer to a question that’s been asked for hundreds of years. Astronomy is all math; it’s so nice. I really like math, and when it can be applied in something like science, that’s even better.
How did you come up with the idea to make the Astronomy Club?
I didn’t want to just practice astronomy on my own—I wanted people to know why I love it so much, and I wanted to try to inspire other people to explore it on their own. I’ve always loved looking at the stars, but the math part of it that I love now I started last year with a science teacher at my old school in Massachusetts. When I knew I was moving to Tower Hill, I was upset that I couldn’t practice astronomy with him, but then when I came here and met Mr. Hoch and saw the Wuerstle Family Telescope, I was really excited. When I heard that there was no astronomy club, I thought this was a void that needed to be filled, and Mr. Hoch and I created the club.
How did you start the club?
The first thing Mr. Hoch and I did was cultivate interest. The best way of doing that, and the way that I got interested, was by observing stunning objects. The first object that we saw when we met at night was the moon, at night, through a telescope. It was really beautiful because the moon was really close to full, and that excited everyone.
We have a mixture of some meetings in school and some meetings out of school, and the focus of the meetings outside of school is to practice actual astronomy. The focus of the meetings in school is to learn about what we’re going to be seeing—like a super moon. I think as we go on, we should focus more on the actual astronomical aspects of astronomy, rather than just the observational aspects. That’s what interested me the most, and I think now that people know how awesome astronomy can be, it will be more interesting.
Have you encountered any problems or challenges, and how did you tackle them?
The weather can be really unpredictable, because we’re so close to the coast, so we might schedule a meeting two weeks in advance at night, but then it can be cloudy, and we can’t see anything. It’s been difficult to schedule out-of-school observations, but so far we’ve had two really successful ones when the night has been very clear.
The other challenge is that the telescope takes practice to maneuver at first, because it’s all mechanical and you can’t position it with your hands. It can be difficult to align. The first night, Mr. Hoch and I arrived about an hour early so that I could master maneuvering the telescope.
What do you hope to get out of this experience of having a club?
At Tower Hill, I definitely want this club to stay once I leave. I want to be able to come back in 30 years with my kids and say, “I started that club.” I also hope that through the astronomy club, students begin using the telescope even more.
How do you think this might help others?
I have always thought of astronomy as something kind of nerdy, and then when I learned what it is actually about, I think I actually said, “This is amazing.” So if someone has preconceived notions about what astronomy is, I hope to break those down and inspire more people to pursue astronomy.
What else do you do at Tower Hill?
I play soccer in the fall, I play squash in the winter and I play lacrosse in the spring. I’m also a co-founder of the Spanish Conversation Club.
What does innovation mean to you?
I think of innovation as seeing the world as it is, and then changing or bettering it. By making the club, I “innovated” because I wanted to make the environment around me better for the people who are in the club. I hope they can uncover a deep-seated love of science, or continue to fuel a raging passion, through the club. In summary, I think innovation is trying to make the world a better place by making something new.