David Aguilar

David Aguilar is the Director of Public Affairs and Science Information at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. A naturalist, astronomer, author, and artist, David's expertise is in communicating the wonder of science. He is the past Director of the Fiske Planetarium and Science Center and the originator of the Science Discovery Program at the University of Colorado in Boulder; Marketing Communications Director at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation; and Marketing Director for PBS’s Emmy-winning NOVA series, Evolution.

He is a recognized writer and space artist with work appearing in the 2008 BBC television series UNIVERSE, Time magazine, US News & World Report, ABC Nightly News, CNN, NY Times, USA Today, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, and Scientific American.

He is the author and illustrator of Planets, Stars & Galaxies and The New Solar System, published by National Geographic, as well as a scholar lecturer on Smithsonian World Tours and Smithsonian Journeys, and popular host of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics programs “Observatory Nights” and the Harvard Lecture Series, “Everything I Learned About Science I Learned At The Movies.” He is also an avid telescope maker and an astronomical and underwater photographer.
May 22 - 30, 2014
9 days
Be a VIP observer of the heart-stirring launch of a manned Soyuz spacecraft
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Sep 21 - 25, 2014
5 days
Enjoy exclusive observatory visits and skywatching in the southwest
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Smithsonian Journeys director Amy Kotkin interviews Smithsonian Study Leader David Aguilar, Director of Public Affairs at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Q: David, you have been leading astronomy tours for Smithsonian Journeys for several years. What do you most enjoy about teaching Smithsonian members on tour?
A: I love the fact that they come from all different parts of the country and backgrounds, but what they have in common is a hunger to learn and see things that most people will never experience in their lifetimes! Personally it gives me great satisfaction to teach people how to use telescopes and gain firsthand knowledge of the universe.
Q: Do you have a favorite anecdote from your travels with Smithsonian members?
A: Yes! A few years back, we timed one of our journeys to coincide with the Mars’ closest encounter with Earth in 70,000 years. We talked about one of the pioneers of research on Mars – Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in 1894 to study what he thought were the canals on Mars. Lowell believed he was seeing the handiwork of Martian civilizations. This became the basis for the War of the Worlds, and other science fiction stories. We observed Mars through telescopes and participants sketched and talked about what they saw. Believe it or not, many thought they the same things as Lowell and drew the same conclusions, which of course, were totally wrong! But we learned a lot about scientific observation!
Q: On our upcoming Focus on Astronomy program in Arizona, we’ll be visiting the Smithsonian’s Multiple Mirror Telescope on Mount Hopkins south of Tucson, Arizona. What is so special about the MMT?
A: The MMT has had two incarnations, both of which totally revolutionized telescope making worldwide. When the MMT was built in the 1970s, it was constructed with a series of 6 mirrors which moved in unison and concentrating a single beam of light to one point of focus. The combined power of the 6 mirrors acted as one giant mirror. In by 1999, the 6 mirrors were replaced with one new mirror which was created using an innovative new process. Rather than being ground, the mirror was literally spun in a giant rotating oven. The mirror was created in 20 hours and took 2 months to cool down. This process was faster, less costly and more precise than the older grinding process. Most all new giant mirrors are made using this process today.
Q: I understand that the mirror was created right on the University of Arizona campus.
A: Yes, that’s correct! The mirror lab is located right beneath the football field!
Q: The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a unique partnership between organizations that are all prominent in the field of astrophysics. Tell us about that partnership.
A: The MMT is a joint project of SAO and the University of Arizona. The university is home to the worlds’ best mirror makers. They spin the mirrors that go into our telescopes. SAO itself is headquartered in Cambridge, MA. It is administered jointly by the Smithsonian and Harvard University in an agreement that dates back to 1973. SAO is world-renown for its astrophysical research. Currently, we have 300 scientists worldwide, working daily to unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A: I enjoy building telescopes including grinding the optics. I am also a space artist -- my paintings of celestial phenomena are in galleries, museums and private collections worldwide. I love to scuba dive and photograph underwater, particularly at night. And I love fly fishing! Fitting all of this into my life is a challenge but well worth it!