The first time Samuel Singer remembers seeing the stars, he was 10 years old. He lived in a small town in a rural part of Nevada. His father, Steve Singer, took him outside with a small telescope and the watched meteor showers, stared at the Milky Way, and even witnessed the Hale-Bopp Comet.
“I really loved just being out there and being quiet with my dad and looking at the night sky,” Singer says.
It was in high school in Tacoma, Washington, in a semester-long astronomy class, that his appreciation of stars and planets deepened. The class forever changed how he thought about, and looked at, the night sky.
“It was when the instructor taught us about how all the heavy elements are produced in the cores of stars and that literally planets are made up of recycled star stuff,” he says. “I was just mesmerized by that and since then I really look up at the sky differently. When I look up at the sky, I don’t just see the beauty. I see all these incredible scientific processes taking place and new planetary systems being formed all the time.”
Singer shares that passion and knowledge about stars, planets, and solar systems as executive director of Wyoming Stargazing. The organization has provided weekly stargazing for the public, presentations in local schools, and programming for private events since 2014. It will also host several events, including a free public viewing at Rendezvous Park, in conjunction with the solar eclipse this summer. Wyoming Stargazing is also working to build an observatory at the top of Snow King Mountain, a project about five years away from becoming a reality.
Despite Singer’s love of astronomy, he originally saw it as a hobby and not a career path. At Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, he studied jazz music and creative writing.
But when Singer brought out the 9-foot telescope he’d helped build in high school for a stargazing event on the college campus, an astronomy professor convinced him to take a class. Singer ended up with a degree in astronomy and physics.
But Singer didn’t want to go into research; he wanted to teach. So for graduate school he picked Teton Science Schools for its outdoor education program.
During that program he learned stargazing in the Tetons was incredible. The higher elevation means less atmosphere to see through. Everything is crisper and clearer. The lower humidity means the air is more stable, making ideal conditions for stargazing. In the summer, the weather is predictable and it’s rarely cloudy at night.
After finishing his doctorate in education at the University of Wyoming in 2013, Singer returned to Jackson to start Wyoming Stargazing. Though he knows a lot more about the stars these days, he still has the same level of awe he had in childhood.
“It’s about learning some facts, but also being just as inspired by the night sky as I was as a kid,” he says.