By: Arnaldo G. Nieves Vázquez
On November 15, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. I went to the University of Puerto Rico’s planetarium at the physics department of the Mayagüez campus and met this man I had previously seen at an astronomy club’s activity and I asked him if he remembered talking about telescopes and constellations; his name was Oswald Torres. After a while he remembered and I thought he would make a great reference to another paper I was going to write.
After our conversation I realized he was very passionate with astronomy so I decided to change my paper’s direction and focus it on his relationship with astronomy and how it developed, so I asked him to meet up for an interview. We met up the following week at the campus after 4:00 p.m. and had our interview.
When Torres was asked what made him pursue astronomy, he replied: “It all started when I was seven years old and we moved from one section of New York City to another section, around 1957-1958, in a third story apartment building and when I looked out the fire escape I asked my mother: “What are those in the night sky?” and she said “those are stars.” But that didn’t satisfy me.”
A few days later his mother took him to the New York Public Library to sign up for his first library card. For his first visit, he took out 8 books to learn about astronomy. But that did not satisfy him either.
“After around a year’s worth, I read every book on astronomy in that public library from the children’s section,” Torres stated. Then he progressed to reading astronomy books from the adults’ section. “I started learning astronomy at an early age.”
For Christmas, his parents bought him a telescope. While most children would be watching television at night, Torres would be out in his fire escape looking at stars. Torres came up with a design on a ‘new’ telescope, which he later on found out was already invented; but he came up with the design on his own.
“When I moved to Georgia, I came across a newspaper article in 1988-1989, NASA needed volunteers to give new ideas for a man expedition to Mars,” Torres replied after being asked about astronomy projects he had participated in. Soon enough, he filled out the information to volunteer and wrote a thesis on what was the most economical way to send a crew to Mars and back. Later, Torres received a book in the mail with parts of his thesis in it with his name accredited.
Torres has been in a total of four astronomy associations: two in New York, one in Georgia, and Puerto Rico’s ‘Sociedad de Astronomia de Puerto Rico,’ which he is currently in.
Torres defines himself as an amateur astronomer: “…amateur is from the Greek word meaning ‘the love’; the love I have for astronomy, and I love to share that with people, it makes me feel good.” He stated that he doesn’t expect anything in return for it, just that hopefully it will influence others with this dynamic of sharing knowledge and benefit mankind.
When asked about his favorite spot to look at the stars, he answered: “…La Pitaya, in the Cabo Rojo section, that’s my favorite spot because I live only four miles away from there, its very easy for me…but its a very dark sight there and its one of the few places in my life that I have seen the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.”
When discussing light pollution, Torres shared information that had caught his interest when he once read about the topic. There are various medical problems due to the glare of light at night; one of them is that it causes cerebral cancer in women.
Torres also explained how smog is formed and how light pollution is related to it: “the light at night is stopping a process with the ozone and some of the gases from combining and its created smog in the city during the day time…at night time without light, the smog would be allowed to rise up and break down; but with all the night lights on, the smog stays.”
Torres’s most recent project is astrophotography. He used to do astrophotography by film, but now he is working on it digitally.
Astronomy is not Oswald Torres’s income, just his hobby, “I always do it for free,” he stated. He takes care of his parents here in Puerto Rico and manages all of his family’s finances as their caretaker.
Oswald Torres plans to pursue astronomy as a university student soon now that he is already 60 years old.
Interview with Oswald Torres. 22 November 2011