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Reta Beebe

Planet Advocate for Jupiter

picture of Reta Beebe

My Field Journals

Prof. RETA BEEBE, of New Mexico State University

A member of the Galileo Imaging team, she's known as "Mrs Jupiter" for her long-standing interest in the planet. She serves on several task forces interested in opening up scientific research to educators, and is a fount of information about other online resources (such as those at NASA Ames and NASA JPL) which touch on Jupiter.

In answer to the question, What made me want to become an astronomer anyway? Prof. Beebe says:

My job includes teaching and research. I teach astronomy to freshmen, sophomores, Juniors, seniors and graduate students. My graduate students, staff and I are funded by NASA to do research on the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. We use Hubble Space Telescope and Galileo data. One of our major tasks is to document data and write it to CD-ROMs for the NASA Planetary Data Archive, a library that everyone can use via e-mail.

I also work on several NASA committees and give public talks to school and civic groups. Although most of my public talks are given in New Mexico I frequently travel to Washington, D.C.,Pasadena, California, and other places for meetings.

The part I like best is getting to use robotic spacecraft to collect data and to work with the interesting people who are associated with these programs. The part I like least is trying to fit all that I have to do into just 24 hours a day.

I grew up in the hills of Colorado. My father was a farmer/rancher... I did not realize that my father was also a naturalist, who'd done a lot of study on his own, because he'd never even gone to high school. So I just assumed that almost everybody in the whole world knew everything that my father did. I learned to pick out the constellations. I spent my childhood trying to say "money" three times before a falling star disappeared, because I would get rich. So that I had a very rich natural environment, animals all around me the whole time, we lived on a ranch. My mother was a teacher and very interested in education, history, that sort of thing, so... she did not answer our questions, she sent us to a book. So it became logical to use a book.

My brothers were all very much younger than I, so I was pretty much free to be what was frequently called the "wild woman". My father used to claim that he had to get the horseshoe rasp out to get my feet in shape to send me to school in the Fall, because we really did run wild, wonderfully wild, in the summertime. And I just simply learned to enjoy the out-of-doors.

When I started teaching, part of the motivation for starting teaching was that I had the summers off to do the kinds of things that I wanted to do. I was teaching in Colorado, where I grew up, and we ranged through the state, you know, on projects for the geology that we would be teaching in junior high. And the space program was developing, and I decided I was not smart enough to continue teaching in junior high, so I went back to get some more training, and had so much fun, I just stayed.

I went to college for 4 years and got a degree in Chemistry. When I decided to become an astrophysicist, I returned to college for two more years and studied physics and mathematics and then went to the University of Indiana to graduate school. When I completed my PhD I worked as a research assistant for Bradford Smith for 4 years and then became an assistant professor of Astronomy at New Mexico State University.

The best preparation for becoming an Astronomer is:

1. Learn to read material and look for the most important ideas in the articles.

2. Write as much as you can. Write stories, letters to friends or reports. Learn to present exactly what you mean to say in an interesting straight forward way.

3. Learn to have FUN doing your math assignments.



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