Newsletter Article: Stars in His Eyes

Republished from the Department of Conservation employee newsletter, What’s Up DOC? Volume 18, Number 5 | September 8, 2017

Rod Guice of DOGGR Lends His Expertise to Eclipse Viewing

By Staci Morrison

Rod Guice is excited about astronomy. The Bakersfield based DOGGR senior oil and gas engineers practically radiates enthusiasm for the science of space, speaking of the universe with a mix of wonder and energy that might make you want to see stars.

“I don’t know what it is about astronomy, but it is absolutely amazing,” Guice said. “Stars are the engines of creation. Everything we are was forged somewhere in space, in the core of a star or supernova or galaxy somewhere. Like Carl Sagan said, ‘we are made of star stuff.’”

Guice, who joined DOGGR in 2016 with four decades of petroleum engineering experience, describes a lifelong curiosity that evolved into an expertise around 2008. That’s when he stumbled upon his first public sky-gazing event, or a star party, hosted by the Kern Astronomical Society, an organization that promotes community awareness of current events in astronomy, and shares knowledge and experiences among amateur astronomers.

Guice was hooked.

“The Society loves to teach the public about astronomy,” Guice explained. The group is very active in the local community, regularly fielding star party requests or questions from schools, libraries and the local news.

Guice, who has served as vice president, president and board member of the organization, was tapped as the Society’s spokesman for the August 21 Great American Solar Eclipse. For that historic occasion — the last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979 — the DOGGR office took a cue from the planets and aligned with Guice and the Society to celebrate through a viewing event at the Inland District office.

DOC Social Committee members Janel Chamberlain, Lynn Fien, Amanda Parks, Rachel Pineda, Sheryl Nasiatka, Clara Shaffer and Martha Winkler set the stage: with Moon Pies, Astro Pops, Starburst candies, and Milky Way chocolate bars. Bill Bartling, head of DOGGR’s Bakersfield office, noted: “They were out of Mars bars …. They were on our list.”

Guice set up his natural light telescope, outfitted with a solar filter to safely view the sun directly. A second solar telescope was also available so attendees could look for solar flares. Employees were invited to bring their children and significant others, and other tenants of the office complex were welcomed to view the eclipse. The event was complete with a primer on planetary eclipses, demonstrated through posters and models to make the giant scope of the universe comprehensible.

“If you think about where we are,” Guice said, “the bottom line is that we orbit the sun at 67,000 miles per hour, dragging the moon with us, and our sun orbits the Milky Way galaxy’s center at 514,000 miles per hour, dragging us with it.” And the sun itself? It may be 93 million miles away, but Guice reminded everyone that it’s “a very special kind of light – that is, light from a 900 thousand-miles-in-diameter continual thermonuclear explosion.”

He then demonstrated to the crowd what would happen to the retina if the lens of one’s eyes were focusing on this explosion during an eclipse – by burning a hole in a piece of paper with a magnifying glass.

Eyes that weren’t trained on the sun were likely to catch Guice and the DOGGR staff on the local television news. “We had reporters from KBAK and KERO in Bakersfield and did live shots from about 5 a.m. up to about 7:30 a.m.,” Guice said.

The viewing party generated a media buzz that kept him busy all week. “It was a really great event,” he said. “About 50-70 people attended throughout the two hours. It was a great relationship event.”

If you were unable to view the August 21 eclipse – or for those of us who didn’t have a Rod Guice on hand to offer telescopes and enthusiasm to take full advantage of the day – another solar eclipse crosses the country in seven years. Mark your calendar and make travel plans now, because, according to Guice, “it is one of the most bizarre things you’ll ever see. Daylight on either side, but stars and darkness where you are. I recommend we all see it.”

That’s saying something. In his amateur sky-gazing, Guice has already seen a few bizarre sights: In 2012 he saw a “ring of fire” solar eclipse, where the moon was too far away from the Earth in its orbit to cover the full sun, allowing the sun’s burning edges to show through and turning the sky a fiery orange. He also has watched Venus transit – that is, it could be seen moving across the front of the sun. Additionally, he has witnessed what he calls “galactic stuff” — deeper space phenomena such as M-51, the “whirlpool galaxy,” which is visible near the Big Dipper with the right telescope.

“M-51 is two merging galaxies,” Guice explained. “The smaller of the two is an irregular galaxy while the other is a great spiral galaxy, and they are merging. They are gravitationally connected.”

As it so happens, the Milky Way is similarly connected to its nearest galactic neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. Andromeda, about 2.5 million light years away, pulls closer to us all the time. And as Guice explains, tens of thousands of years from now, the two galaxies will merge and “probably tear each other apart while creating a burst of new stars. It would be spectacular to see.”

In the meantime (and luckily in our lifetimes), Guice is content watching more benign planetary experiences and encourages others to try the hobby. Again channeling Carl Sagan, he is keen to appreciate that everything is relative once you get an eye toward the skies. “We are so miniscule,” Guice said. “We sit here on a planet that is rotating 1,000 miles an hour.

The sunrise is an illusion; it appears to rise because our planet rotates us into it. Everything is in motion.”

That perspective helps fuel a continued passion in astronomy – or at least, serves as a reminder that there’s always more to explore.