Constable: Roselle teen dazzles with gorgeous astronomy images
At an age when most kids are learning how to color within the lines, 6-year-Tyler Westering of Roselle was expanding his horizons.
"I remember seeing this thing called the ring nebula," Tyler, now 17, says of a late-night field trip where his father, Bill Westering, took the boy to an astronomy event at Red Hawk Park in Carol Stream. "It looks like a smoke ring or a doughnut. I looked at it through the telescope for the first time and it was amazing."
Inspired by that view of space, Tyler would take binoculars to the end of his driveway and gaze at the heavens. Eventually, he got his own telescope.
"I looked at Saturn for the first time through that, and that was cool," Tyler remembers. "You could see the rings and some moons. Even with binoculars, if you look at Jupiter, you can see four of the moons."
Astronomy is "thrilling," says Tyler, who says he gets his kicks from meteor showers, such as the Perseid meteor shower coming this week, lunar eclipses, solar eclipses and comets.
"When you do get a good comet, like Comet NEOWISE last year, it's spectacular," Tyler says.
As vice president of observation for the Northwest Suburban Astronomers club, Tyler schedules public and private events, hosts his own "Planets Videos" YouTube channel, publishes his "Planets Newsletter," writes articles, posts photos and videos of celestial events, and promotes astronomy on social media. Those efforts are earning him national attention.
The home-schooler will be honored at ALCON 2021, the annual convention of the Astronomical League, a consortium of more than 300 amateur astronomical societies with 18,500 members from around the nation. Winner of the Horkheimer/Smith Award, the highest youth service award given by the 75-year-old organization, Tyler will be feted during the online convention Aug. 19-21 featuring a "star-studded cast of professional astronomers," including pulsar-discoverer Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell of Oxford University.
"He's done a lot of work, done a great job," Mike Schiller, 60, a Barrington health care professional and president of Northwest Suburban Astronomers, says of Tyler.
Three years ago, Tyler bought a SkiQuest reflector telescope with a 6-inch aperture, which broadened his view and his interests.
"I just started getting into astrophotography," Tyler says. He used his photos of the January 2019 lunar eclipse in a recent Northwest Suburban Astronomers' YouTube Channel presentation titled "Thriller Astronomy." He also has photos of nebulas and the Milky Way.
To escape some of the urban light pollution, Tyler schedules Northwest Suburban Astronomers club "star parties" near Woodstock and DeKalb, as well as an annual large gathering in Wildcat Mountain State Park, about two hours northwest of Madison, Wisconsin.
He's hoping to get some good sky views during an upcoming family trip out West to Yellowstone National Park.
"We'll see. There's a lot of smoke right now," Tyler says.
Attending high school one day a week at Greenhouse Christian Co-School in Wheaton and then home schooling, Tyler says his astronomy hobby gets full support from his parents, Bill and Jennifer Westering.
Tyler, who works at Starbucks and starts college soon at the College of DuPage, hopes to study park management, natural resources and recreation at the University of Montana. He says he wants to become a park ranger and teach others about all the universe has to offer. "I like the interpretive side," he says.
In 2020, Northwest Suburban Astronomers club member Edith Auchter won a newsletter editor award from the North Central Region of the Astronomical League, a teen member won the Horkheimer/O'Meara Journalism Award from the Astronomical League, and her younger brother finished second. Now Tyler has won the 2021 Horkheimer/Smith Youth Service Award.
"We're seeing more younger people coming into the hobby," Schiller says of the 160 members of the local club.
Telescopes and cameras are more affordable than before, and young people know how to use the technology, Schiller says, explaining that the club has seen a shift from simply observing to imaging.
"With good equipment, the sky's the limit," Schiller says. Annual membership costs $20 a year for a family of five and $10 for a student. For more information, visit nsaclub.org.
As part of his award, Tyler will get an all-expenses-paid trip to the League's 2022 national convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and $1,700, which he plans to invest in a better camera for his astrophotography.
"I get to see how vast the universe is," Tyler says. "I think that's pretty cool."
A celestial showWhat: Perseid meteor shower peaks with meteors flashing one per minute or more
When: Wednesday, Thursday and maybe Friday, with peak viewing in predawn hours Thursday
Where: Perseus constellation in the northeastern sky
Why: Comet Swift-Tuttle debris, generally the size of a grain of sand, burns as it enters Earth's atmosphere
Tips: Set up reclining chair in dark spot, don't look at your cellphone or other light, be patient
Source: Mike Schiller, president of Northwest Suburban Astronomers