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Paris Wilken looks to the stars

Nell Jaskowiak

Nell Jaskowiak

Wilken uses glasses from the solar eclipse to observe the sun. He spent the entire day of the eclipse teaching science classes what he’s learned about the sun and letting students look through a solar filtered telescope at the sun.

Nell Jaskowiak, Parkway West High School

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Every clear Friday night, Paris Wilken drives to Broemmelsiek Park and unpacks a huge, olive green box. He gets his telescope set up for a night of watching the stars, which is one of his biggest passions.

“Before you look at space you could just be like, ‘Yeah, I understand it’s a fact of life that I’m just a speck of dust,’ but you don’t actually feel it until you start seeing why you’re a speck of dust,” Wilken said. “When you look through a telescope and you look at a nebula or another galaxy, you really feel it, and I like the feeling.”

Wilken is a member of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri (ASEM), an organization that hosts weekly open houses for all members of the public to look through the members’ telescopes.

“[I love looking at] globular clusters, cause you really feel like you’re tiny. There’s 10s of 1000s of stars in there that are like 10 million years old. You really feel the power of the universe, because your entire life is a second compared to the formation of that cluster of stars,” Wilken said.

In addition to ASEM, Wilken is currently enrolled in the astronomy class. The current unit on optics and telescopes is his favorite part of astronomy.

“While I do enjoy observing, you also have the physics standpoint: how things interact with each other and being able to predict how stuff will happen,” Wilken said. “A 70 millimeter telescope can suck in enough light to let you see stuff that’s millions and millions of miles away, and the science behind it is amazing.”

Desiring to pursue a career in astrophysics, Wilken dreams of working at NASA in the future.

“The men and women who stay back and make sure that [astronauts] get to space safely have perhaps the most stressful job because the entire world is looking at you, making sure that these men and women get home safe and do their mission. I admire the fact that they don’t put people in space until they have all of the components figured out,” Wilken said.

Wilken is drawn to astronomy because of the feelings that observing and interacting with the universe evoke in him.

“Astronomy can very much be a spiritual thing; I don’t think it’s a spiritual thing to me, but I have a feeling some people live by that,” Wilken said. “I’m more in awe of the universe than anything else. The feeling is good, it’s like being happy, but it’s just a bit different.”

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