Story of a… Astronomer

For Seminole State College planetarium director Derek Demeter, studying the night sky is always illuminating.

Derek Demeter

Roberto Gonzalez

Starstruck at age 6. His dad took Demeter to see a show about Mars at the old John Young Planetarium. Astronomy “has been an addiction ever since.” The tipping point was “when [the comet] Hale-Bopp came in. I was about 10 years old. That was my first time to look through a pair of binoculars and see something that was not of this planet. That catapulted me.”

Sharing his knowledge. A UCF graduate with a double major in physics and technical education, Demeter has been the director of the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium at Seminole State College in Sanford, where he received his associate degree, since 2007. “I had an eagerness to teach,” but he didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk or a computer.

Capturing the stars with astrophotography. Demeter uses a Canon camera, a wide-angle lens and an astrograph telescope to take dazzling photos of the cosmos. “My brother described it very well. He said photography is a scientist’s art form. The end result is an amazing photo, something cool like a nebula or a galaxy or the Milky Way.”

Viewing the Aurora Borealis was an otherworldly experience. “I was in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It happened about three months after my dad passed away. The curtains of light danced across the sky. It was a very emotional experience. There’s nothing to describe it.”

The Big One is coming… in 28 years. Demeter is planning to travel to the Oregon/Idaho border this month to see the total eclipse of the sun, which will be at only 90 percent in Central Florida. But in 2045, the total eclipse will occur right over Orlando. “I’ll be in my 60s then. The coolest part about that eclipse is the duration. This eclipse is only about two minutes and 20 seconds for its maximum. The one in Orlando in 2045 is over six minutes long. My fiancée and I joke that it’s going to be my last hurrah before I retire.”

Going dark. Not only are dark skies good for viewing the night sky, they’re also good for your sleep health, Demeter insists. But until approaches to outdoor lighting change, the number-one place to view the night sky locally is the Kissimmee Prairie
Preserve State Park. “Canaveral National Seashore, which is only an hour away, is also a great place.”

Seeing through the eyes of a child. Demeter works with a colleague to write the planetarium’s interactive, live-narrated shows, and he enjoys fielding kids’ questions. “I always imagine myself being that kid. You never know what that kid may end up doing.”

The little planetarium that could. His innovative approach to teaching at the 55-seat planetarium has gained Demeter a measure of international acclaim. Currently, he serves as president of the Central Florida Astronomical Society and the Southeastern Planetarium Association, as well as live interactive chairman of the International Planetarium Society. “We have definitely put ourselves on the map. It’s not always about how big your theater is. It’s how you use it.”

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