by Cheryl Senn
A Fresno County 4-H camp astronomy night was enhanced by Sanger amateur astronomer Fabian Barajas, who shared his love and knowledge of the stars with them.
According to Anne Cehrs from Fresno County 4-H, Camp Keola at Huntington Lake this past summer was attended by 4-H members from all over the county. This included eight 4-H members who also attend Sanger Unified Schools and are members of Sanger 4-H clubs. In addition to camp activities, one evening was devoted to astronomy while learning about Greek and Roman myths behind constellations. Barajas, along with his sister, Anna, brought telescopes to the camp to share with the campers.
“I really enjoyed it. I’ve never been to a 4-H camp,” said Barajas. After his presentation, some campers said they wanted to learn more about astronomy. “I enjoyed the question and answer sessions with the campers. I enjoyed the kindness they showed to me and my sister. It was a win-win situation because I get to share my hobby.”
Barajas has been a custodian with Sanger Unified at Washington Academic Middle School since March 2011. His fascination with the stars has spanned over the past 37 years. “I’ve been into astronomy since I was ten years old when my parents bought me a little tabletop telescope from Kmart. I wanted it so much. I was practically begging them for about a month,” said Barajas. “With that little telescope I saw the planet Saturn and its rings. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on astronomy.”
Barajas stated that he has not taken any college courses in astronomy and is self-taught. “I’ve been checking out books from the Sanger Library, purchasing my own books, and subscribe to Astronomy Magazine.” He also has astronomy programs on his computer and Google Star Maps on his smart phone and on his tablet PC, and has attended some meetings of the Fresno Astronomy Club.
Over the years Barajas kept buying newer and more advanced telescopes until he bought his largest 12 inch reflector telescope. The large scope weighs 85 pounds and it is bigger than a water heater. This is the scope Barajas shared with the 4-H campers.
He also owns a six inch and an eight inch reflector scope. With the six inch scope Barajas stated that you can see Saturn’s rings with five moons, Jupiter and its four moons and the cloud belts going across Jupiter, including the Great Red Spot. With the 12 inch scope, a person should be able to see hundreds of craters on the moon and even see craters inside of craters, along with galaxies outside of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Barajas usually spends two hours a day, in the evening, looking through his telescopes. However, when the weather is better and he has a day off from work, there are times he will spend the whole night camping out and looking through his telescopes. “I will take my telescope outside at 10 at night, and I won’t call it quits until five in the morning. By staying up, I can see events that happen early in the morning.”
There is a lot of knowledge Barajas has accumulated over the years and now he feels comfortable navigating the night sky. “When I first started, and I didn’t know my way around, I was still learning the constellations and where they are in relation to each other, I would have maps and I still have maps. I would use the maps to guide me, but now most of it’s by memory, because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Traveling to Huntington Lake with his telescopes is the farthest Barajas has traveled to view the night sky and it is the highest elevation he has taken his telescopes to. “Viewing the stars in the Valley isn’t as pristine as viewing them in the mountains. By going up to a higher elevation, away from the city lights, and away from the smog, everything is so much brighter. A way better experience.”
The hobby of astronomy has helped shape Barajas’ perspective on life. He said astronomy has made him realize just how small we really are. “The universe is huge. We are so tiny. We’re like grains of sand on a beach. That’s not an exaggeration.”
There have been discoveries of other galaxies by astronomers that make Barajas think about the possibility of life on other planets. “So, when I look up into the sky, the impression that always enters my mind is, we are not alone.”
Barajas enjoys sharing his love of astronomy with the people in his community. “When they see the moon for the first time, just like when I was at the camp, I enjoy seeing the reaction. Not only of the children, but of the adults. They were seeing Saturn for the first time.”
According to Cehrs, campers were heard making comments, like “Wow, that is so cool,” and “Is that real,” and “Did someone put a picture in there,” at the 4-H summer camp.
Volunteering at the camp was a wonderful experience for Barajas and if asked to he will go again. His advice to anyone interested in astronomy is, “Don’t let lack of money prevent you from enjoying looking at the night’s sky. It’s free to everyone. You can do research, check out books, and use computers, at the library. There are so many free resources that people can take advantage of.”
“It’s a very rewarding hobby,” continued Barajas, and he encourages parents, if their child shows an interest in astronomy, to not spend too much money at first. He said it might be best to purchase a pair of binoculars as they make it easy to view the moon and stars for a beginner, and help with keeping the child interested in astronomy.
It only took that tabletop telescope from Kmart to light a fire in Barajas that has continued to grow in adulthood.
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