Ranchos resident has always had an affinity for outer space | RecordCourier.com

Ranchos resident has always had an affinity for outer space

Dave Anderson stands in front of the Lee Snyder Observatory he constructed in his yard of his Ranchos home.
Amy Roby

Growing up during the 1960s, Dave Anderson was enthralled with NASA’s human spaceflight program Gemini. He specifically referenced the significant impact of the three-day Gemini IX mission that carried astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan. A defining moment in Anderson’s life came when he saw a picture of Stafford within the Gemini capsule, looking out a small square of window into the vast expanse of space. Struck by the fact that, “a man was actually up there,” Anderson’s fascination with outer space was entrenched.

Early on, he took an interest in trying to capture space program events on film. Anderson was 16 years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and he remembers pointing his Super 8 movie camera at the television to record the moonwalk broadcast, a clip which he still has.

During his freshman year at Cornell University, Anderson had the opportunity, not once but twice, to converse with famed astronomer Carl Sagan after Sagan delivered guest lectures in Anderson’s astronomy class. In 1975, Anderson transferred to UC Davis, where he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering.

“You never know what’s going to happen in your life and where it’s going to lead,” he said.

After learning of a hiring opportunity with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Anderson applied despite a warning from one of his aeronautical engineering professors that he wouldn’t be considered an ideal candidate. Undeterred, Anderson interviewed with and was hired by Apollo astronaut John S. Bull to develop aircraft guidance and navigation. 

During his three and a half years working at NASA, Anderson also earned his pilot’s license. He left NASA to pursue aircraft design test work at Lear Fan in Reno and three and a half years after that, he began his career as a pilot with United Airlines. All the while, Anderson maintained his interest in experimenting with different outer space photography techniques.

Anderson’s wife Linda Miner introduced him to well-known Carson City astronomer and Western Nevada College instructor Lee Snyder in 2004, and their shared love of outer space forged an enduring friendship between the two men. Snyder, who researched binary stars and calculated their density well into his 80s, was an enthusiastic supporter of Anderson’s photographic pursuits. Prior to his passing in 2014, Snyder gifted his stargazing equipment and catalog of scientific notes to Anderson.

Up to that time, Anderson was hauling his equipment back and forth from his garage in the evenings to work on his nighttime photography. In honor of Snyder’s gift, Anderson built an observatory to securely and permanently house a mounted telescope and related camera equipment he’d received. He named the domed structure LSO: Lee Snyder Observatory.

The observatory enables Anderson to capture detailed images of deep space objects, and he regards it as a way to carry on Snyder’s legacy.

“I think (Snyder) would be happy right now,” he said, noting that the equipment in the observatory has been updated in the years since he received the original gift in 2014.

Anderson marvels that because of rapidly evolving technological improvements and affordability, the ability to locate, identify, and photograph deep outer space objects is more accessible than ever before.

It’s now “possible for mortals to do what astronomers 30 years ago couldn’t dream of doing,” he said. “The images you can get with a modest telescope are just incredible… I can see a huge improvement from the photos I was taking even a year ago.”

In 2020, Anderson added an annex building outfitted with a retractable roof next to the LSO in order to house another, smaller mounted telescope and camera. He named this building DDH: Dave’s Dog House, and said he’s slept out there through many a night while working to capture his images of outer space.

Anderson enjoys a challenge and is inspired by asking the question, “How do I get this to work?” He’s learned how to navigate software that enables him to remotely operate telescopic and photographic functions within the LSO and DDH. Largely self-taught, he’s found useful online information as his projects have evolved and he credits “Professor YouTube” with helping him determine how to construct the observatory and hone his deep space photography skills over the years.

“There are lots of people on YouTube who talk about this stuff,” he said. “Processing the (photo) files is as big as task as anything, and I’m still figuring out how to do that.”

There’s no shortage of subject matter, simply because the sheer magnitude of the universe is staggering. Anderson said there are about 400 billion galaxies in the known universe and that he’s continually discovering objects in space that he didn’t even know existed. Because many of the things he photographs are light years away from Earth, looking at one of these pictures is literally looking back in time (a light year is the distance light travels in one year and is equivalent to about 5.88 trillion miles).

Light pollution is an issue that impacts night sky viewing and limits photographic opportunities. To lessen these unfavorable effects and to save energy, Anderson suggests people consider leaving outside lights off on clear nights.

Each day, Anderson sits down to plot out where he wants to shoot that night. If viewing conditions are favorable, the number of photos he takes can number in the hundreds. Anderson then sifts through his accumulated data in search of a treasure.

“If I say, ‘wow’ out loud, I know I have something,” he said.

Anderson started uploading his images to his private Facebook page and received an overwhelmingly positive response. At the urging of his friend, Kat Simmons, Anderson created a public Facebook page titled, “Contemplating the Universe,” where he posts his photos accompanied by his observations, knowledgeable commentary, and details about his artistic process. The tagline for the page is “A series of astronomy images from Gardnerville, Nevada. A window to the infinite.”

Anyone can access the page and join by logging onto http://www.facebook.com/groups/1133413893688154.

Through it all, Anderson maintains his sense of awe and continues to be inspired by the perspective gained from looking up and out toward space. A recent reflection on his public Facebook page reads:

“Quite an adventure last night. Amazing dark skies!! It’s a metaphor for life. No matter the troubles you find, in this case technical telescope issues, the universe and all its beauty keeps moving. It doesn’t care what you are dealing with. It just keeps moving. Enjoy it in any way you can. And the sun does come up in the morning…”

Anderson said although it might be easy to feel a sense of dissociation when seeing the images, he stressed the importance of remembering, “These things that we look at are real places; they actually exist and they’ve always been there. These are places a person could actually go to, but it’s impossible (because of the distance). Even though we can’t get there, it’s real… it exists.”

Christmas dinner grocery giveaway

For the third consecutive year, Northern Nevada Dream Center hosts a Dream Christmas grocery giveaway this Saturday, Dec. 19 starting at 11 a.m. The organization’s mobile food truck is stocked with groceries, spiral cut hams, and other holiday treats and will be in the parking lot of Wink’s Silver Strike Lanes, 1281 Kimmerling Road in the Gardnerville Ranchos. In keeping with current health and safety measures, gloves and masks will be worn and social distancing recommendations followed.

The event is first come-first served. Each bag provides a Christmas dinner for four and NNDC board member and Gardnerville resident Jess Grant said last year’s giveaway fed 235 people. In addition to providing food and other holiday treats, Grant said NNDC hopes to spread some Christmas cheer.

For information, log on to nndreamcenter.org or call 775-443-4090 and leave a message. As a volunteer-run organization, NNDC is staffed part-time, and voice messages will be returned promptly.