Campus News

Q&A with Dave Lengyel

January 31, 2018

Communications Staff

man standing next to a observatory dome
Dave Lengyel is the observatory and planetarium coordinator in Peters Hall.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Q&A with…” is a series dedicated to introducing staff members to the Oberlin community. We are highlighting one staff member each week. Is there someone you’d like to nominate? Please get in touch.

Without a doubt, Dave Lengyel has the best view on campus. That’s because as the coordinator for Oberlin’s Observatory and Taylor Planetarium, Lengyel spends most of his time atop Peters Hall. But Lengyel doesn’t just spend his time star gazing on the roof. In addition to running the observatory and planetarium, he also teaches the labs for Astronomy 100 and coordinates public observing sessions. And four years ago, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) approached Lengyel about installing a meteor camera on campus, he became the point person for the project.

“NASA has something they call a ‘Fireball Network’ that consists of 20 all-sky cameras, in various locations, that detect very bright meteors, or ‘fireballs,’” says Lengyel. “Two NASA technicians came to Oberlin, and I helped them install the camera and a computer.”

Sometimes, the camera captures incredible phenomena. This January, Oberlin’s all-sky camera caught rare footage of a meteor streaking across the sky. So what exactly does NASA do with information such as this? The government agency collects it to learn more about near-Earth objects, their motion, size, and quantity. But if you’re not a NASA employee, you can see a clip of Oberlin’s meteor footage captured here.

Get to know more about Lengyel in this Q&A.

Describe your role in six words.
I’m your guide to the sky.

What's your passion?
I love to teach astronomy. Almost everyone wants to learn more about the Universe. I love answering astronomy questions from people of all ages. Some of the toughest questions come from second graders, by the way.

Favorite song or musician?
Probably Gordon Lightfoot, because of the amazing number of outstanding songs that he has written since the 1960s. But that's a tough question, as there are so many great songwriters and performers out there.

What did you want to be when you were eight years old?
I wanted to be an astronomer and a teacher. I did both, and I continue to do both.

Favorite place on earth?
I love the high desert of the American West. Maybe a spot near Death Valley, where the night sky is so dark that the Milky Way nearly casts a shadow.

What's one thing we don't know about you?
I play bass in a classic rock band, the Men of Steele, named after Amherst Steele High School, where all of the members once taught. I play mandolin in the Front Porch Swatters, an Americana band with several members from Oberlin. I also play guitar in the Starship Truckers, a two-man group that plays "music to make you smile," with my former college roommate who was also once a science teacher.

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