Careers In Curiosity: To Infinity and Beyond!


Jason Heaton, Assistant Director of Astronomy

What was your childhood dream job? Ballerina? Fire Fighter? Marine Biologist? Everyone is different, but it is certainly a rarity to be so inspired by something that you make it your life’s work. Jason Heaton, the Museum’s Assistant Director of Astronomy, visited the Boonshoft Museum as a little boy and fell in love with the possibilities that the night sky provided.

For this month’s Careers In Curiosity post, our guest blogger and Planetarium expert extraordinaire, Jason, will talk a little bit about running a Planetarium, teaching children and adults about our Solar System, and much more. Check out his blog below:


In 2003 I had the chance to meet Neil Armstrong

Hello, Nice To Meet You

My name is Jason Heaton and I am the Assistant Director of Astronomy at the Dayton Society of Natural History. The Astronomy department at the Boonshoft houses an observatory, a planetarium, and astronomy related exhibits.

How I Started in Astronomy

My career in astronomy began at the Boonshoft when I was a child. My parents enrolled me in the Boonshoft summer programs for many years. I


The NASA sponsored Exoplanets exhibit, produced by the Boonshoft Astronomy Department

loved archaeology, paleontology, and the activities at SunWatch, but the planetarium was by far my favorite. An energetic and hilarious planetarium director named Art Goss inspired me and fueled my love for the night sky.

In school, science classes were my favorite. I went to college at the University of Dayton, enrolling in Aerospace Engineering. I began working in the planetarium as a part time job while I was in school.  During that time, I fell in love with astronomical visualization…making


A planetarium audience rides an Ice Slide set on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

the stars come to life in the planetarium. I graduated U.D. with a degree in Computer Animation. I have been working for the Museum ever since, for more than twenty years now.

The Best Part of Working in the Astronomy Department

We do many different things in our department. We build astronomy exhibits such as the Exoplanet exhibit which recently opened. We house the Apollo Observatory, a large telescope open for free to the public on clear Friday nights. We have many different types of events that happen in the planetarium, people have proposed marriage, live bands have played, and astronauts have lectured. We have created planetarium shows and astronomical visualizations that have been shown around the world.  However, my favorite thing about working in the astronomy department is presenting the live shows about the night sky in the Dome.


Speaking of magic, the planetarium is also one of the main stages for Harry Potter Camp, where I play Professor Starbuck, the Hogwarts summer school astronomy teacher.

Someone once said that as people we all have one thing in common…we all look up at the stars at some point in our lives and wonder. The planetarium is a unique place. When I was a child, it was magical.  People come to our planetarium to learn about the sky and experience that same feeling of wonder and magic.

As a presenter, I have witnessed the same feeling of magic in the eyes of children coming to the star shows. They will often come back after the show and ask a million questions, it becomes obvious that they will leave the museum loving the stars the same way I have.

Future Generations

You never know who is going to come into the planetarium and become a future astronaut or astronomer. The first person on Mars may be someone who is in school right now. The astronomers who find the first Earth-like planet; the mission specialist onboard a future space station; the scientists that will help us get back to the Moon; all of these people have one thing in common: someone, or something, inspired them and their love of the night sky, perhaps in a planetarium like ours.

5 Things You Should Know About the Super-Blood-Harvest Moon Total Lunar Eclipse this Sunday!

The countdown to the Super-Blood-Harvest Moon total Lunar Eclipse is winding down and many people can’t wait to see what the sky has to offer on September 27-28. Knowing that we won’t see another Supermoon Blood moon until 2033, this lunar occurrence is pretty special and a pretty spooktacular way to kick off fall and the official start to the Halloween season.

Before you join your friends and family for some Supermoon fun, find the 5 Must-Knows about the Supermoon—then, check out some of the urban legends and history behind the moon below.



Why is a Supermoon so super?

Our staff at the Museum think our Moon is pretty super every day of the year, but in this case, we are talking about a lunar occurrence that in the modern day has been named “the Supermoon”. We think Mega Moon sounds better because it’s alliterative, but hey, we can’t be picky when it comes to our favorite moon in the galaxy.

A Supermoon occurs when a full moon is closest to the Earth on its elliptical orbit. This results in the moon looking slightly larger in the sky to people on Earth. The technical name for a Supermoon is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun System, but Supermoon seems easier to pronounce, right?

Just how rare is a Supermoon? On average, every 14th full moon is a Supermoon.

eclipse_total_espanek_10-27-2004-e1358526755212What gives the moon that red tinge, famously deemed a “Blood Moon?”

Interestingly enough, a Blood Moon is not a term that astronomers commonly use. Expanding on that, actually calling something a “Blood Moon Total Lunar Eclipse” is redundant. Why? Because what gives the moon a red tinge is actually the total lunar eclipse itself!

Here’s why: During a lunar eclipse, the Earth’s shadow slowly moves across the Moon’s face, which appears dark. However, when the Earth’s shadow completely covers the Moon, it suddenly looks like is has been painted entirely red.

This actually has a lot to do with how sunlight moves through our atmosphere. Sunlight is composed of a range of frequencies, many of which are filtered out, but the least affected on the light spectrum is reddish in color. When this red-tinged light enters our atmosphere it is refracted (bent) towards the surface and again on the other side of the Earth. This double refraction sends the reddish light onto the Moon’s face during a total lunar eclipse—and then boom! Blood Moon (which is actually just a total lunar eclipse).

BloodMoon34What happens during a total lunar eclipse?

Much like Peter Pan had a rascally shadow, everything, including the Earth, does too. A Lunar Eclipse happens when the Moon passes directly into the Earth’s shadow. Because they are aligned, you will see a total Lunar Eclipse. Of course, this can only happen when the moon is full.

What, in fact, is a Harvest Moon?

The Harvest Moon is a name for the moon with no astronomical significance, and has a lot to do with the changing of the seasons. We just celebrated the autumnal equinox, making it officially fall. The Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the autumnal equinox, which also happens to be the same evening as the total Lunar Eclipse.


Click on the image to learn more. Credit:

Will I be able to see the Super-Blood-Harvest Moon Total Lunar Eclipse where I live?

The short answer? Maybe. The good news is that half the planet will be able to watch this spectacular moon display, however, not if you live in an area that happens to have bad weather that evening.

Of course, as with most of our Friday night observing in the Apollo Observatory, everything in the sky is, “weather permitting”. If there are thick rain clouds around where you live, you are not in luck! However, if it’s a clear night and you live in the Western Hemisphere, especially in America and Western Europe, you will be able to witness the Supermoon eclipse in all its glory.

The partial eclipse begins at 9:07 PM EDT Sunday night, the total eclipse (blood moon) is from 10:11 to 11:23 PM, and the partial eclipse ends at 12:27 AM.  The partial eclipse can be described as when the Moon is partly in and partly out of the shadow, and will look white with a bite taken out of it.

West-Coasters: Unfortunately, the first partial stage of the eclipse will already be occurring when the moon rises as the sun sets. However, you’ll still be able to see catch the best parts on Sunday!



Fun Facts and Myth-Busts:

  • The term “Blood Moon” was originally a religious term coined by a Christian pastor.
  • The moon is made out of cheese? I think we all know that is entirely false. However, this was a popular fable in 16th and 17th century English literature.
  • Why do wolves howl at the moon? If you see this happen, it’s entirely coincidental. Researchers have found no correlation between the moon and howling canines. However, because wolves are nocturnal they are more likely to be vocal at night.
  • The first full moon after the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon because many crops ripen during the late summer/early fall. Before electricity, farmers would tend to their crops by the light of this full moon.

6 Tips and Tricks You Need To Know To Become a Star Gazing Pro!

Stop what you are doing immediately. If you are indoors, on a computer just take a break and go outside, if you are on a mobile device enjoying the great outdoors simply look up. What do you see? Pristine sky, a gorgeous sunset, a mysteriously shaped cloud that looks vaguely similar to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (of Ghostbusters fame)? We digress—often, we take the awe-inspiring vastness of our sky and space for granted. In the grand scheme of things we are pretty small, so it’s easy to not think about the limitlessness of space and just how special our Solar System is.


If you really want to know how small you are, check out the video above!

From a giant amber Harvest Moon to Halley’s Comet, our night sky holds dozens of beautiful displays of science and physics. One of the things most commonly appreciated by the public are meteor showers, so we asked Joe, Astronomy Department member, resident astrophysicist, and (now) guest blogger, to give us some tips and tricks on which meteor showers are best and how we can see them with the naked eye.

Click below to read Joe’s Guest Blog.

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