My parents always blamed my grandfather for getting me started in looking at the sky, as he'd hold me on the porch seat and point out the rising Moon too often. By the time I got to high school I was hooked, and started doing things such as photographing the edges of the Moon's nearside and following the changes of an eclipsing variable star from the back yard. I went on to Vanderbilt University (which is where I first met NGC 3314, courtesy of some photographic plates taken at Cerro Tololo by Prof. Dan Weedman) and UC Santa Cruz for graduate work, following a summer stint at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (analyzing data from what was at the time only a Pretty Big Array).
My dissertation work at Lick and Mt. Lemmon Observatories concentrated on the spectra of galactic nuclei. I went on for three years at Kitt Peak National Observatory and a two-year international fling at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. My research has taken me from the Caucasus to Mauna Kea to Chile and many points between to gather data, and I've been able to make use of data collected in Earth orbit and from almost the distance of Mars.
I've been lucky enough to work with HST data since the first cycle (originally getting involved because of experience in deconvolution of ground-based images), and am still amazed at the kinds of observations that have become possible after so many years of speculation. My research deals with both nearby and distant galaxies. Interacting galaxies have been a perennial favorite, with dust in galaxies and galaxy evolution strong recent interests. You can see and read more about it at my homepage, www.astr.ua.edu/keel, and my picture collection.
Unlike many professional astronomers, having started out as a backyard amateur, I still have a yen for eyeballing the universe, and have 6- and 10-inch reflectors sitting by my front door. Once in a while I do research on a galaxy that I can actually see with these, which is especially cool. Some of my favorite sights in the sky over the years have included a total solar eclipse (Oregon 1979), seeing the center of the Milky Way overhead from Chile, the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, the dark spots left on Jupiter by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's demise, and watching the orbital movement of Comet Hyakutake minute by minute. Closer to home, I've been impressed by the escaped tether from STS-75 (the eeriest thing I can recall seeing in the sky), the brilliant Iridium flares (which did give astronomers mixed feelings), and seeing HST and shuttle orbiters during the servicing missions. From the scheduling of two of them visible on Christmas, if that wasn't Santa Claus, it was close enough for me!
Away from work, our two boys keep life quite busy enough. I also fancy myself one of the better classical bass trombonists among members of the International Astronomical Union, and occasionally wish that Bach had written more for the trombone. I'm active in the Wesleyan Church (especially with music) and with the Cub Scouts (in my capacity as the spouse of Pack 8's Cubmaster). In my abundant spare time, some favorite authors are C.S. Lewis, Poul Anderson, and Arthur C. Clarke. And what kind of minivan (with 180,00 miles on the odometer) do I tool around in? A Silhouette, of course...
- Supplementary Pages by Bill Keel:
NGC 3314 Variable Object (also authored by Lisa Frattare)