Joe Montani was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey (USA) in 1952. He practiced amateur astronomy, photography, and telescope making there until going to New York City in 1970 to attend college at Columbia University. There he studied Philosophy, specializing in Philosophy of Mind, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Science. His parallel major subject was Astronomy.
Joe made his first telescope mirror at age 14, a 4 1/4 inch f/3.3, for a hand-held rich field telescope delivering a huge visual field at 15x. Why f/3.3?, a very tough paraboloid to figure for a young first-timer? "Well, I decided to emulate the biggest telescope in the world at the time, the 200-inch on Palomar Mountain, if not in aperture, then at least in f-ratio!"
After the BA in Philosophy, Joe worked at Columbia in millimeter-wave radio astronomy, observing to support the great Columbia Sky Survey in Carbon Monoxide at 2.6 mm wavelength, and building electronics and other gear to upgrade the telescope continuously. To complete the survey of the Milky Way galaxy, Joe participated in building a second Columbia telescope, and accompanied it to the southern hemisphere in Chile, to the wonderful Cerro Tololo InterAmerican Observatory. He installed the new telescope there in late 1982 and observed with it for two years, making the first fully sampled CO survey of the Large Magellanic Cloud and the first detections ever of CO in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Milky Way 3rd and 4th quadrant surveys were also completed.
After an exciting decade of research, Joe went to graduate school, to earn the Master of Science Degree in Physics in 1987 from SUNY, Stony Brook. Determined to do a thesis in a topic different from astronomy for a change, he did his thesis work in a Low-Temperature/Solid-State Physics lab.
Immediately he went back to work in astronomy, at Steward Observatory in Tucson, AZ, developing and applying ground-based and airborne site-testing equipment in the search for homes for new large telescopes. He then went across the street to the Lunar and Planetary Lab to work in airborne Infrared Astronomy with a Fourier Transform Spectrometer. "That device was akin to the laser-controlled stage system I built for my Master's Thesis work," Joe says. This meant frequent flight programs with the NASA Kuiper Airborne Observatory, at 41,000 feet altitude, above most of the earth's water vapor. The program wound-down to dedicate funds to its successor project, SOFIA: Joe then went to the Spacewatch group.
Spacewatch has been a pioneering group and grew up around Dr. Tom Gehrels and Dr. Bob McMillan, and works to discover and keep tabs on Near-Earth asteroids and comets. Such work can avert the largest ecological disaster -- impact of an asteroid or comet with earth -- by providing the governments of the world with 10-50 year warning of objects whose orbits may bring them dangerously close in the future. The poor dinosaurs could do nothing to help themselves 65 million years ago, but Spacewatch can discover these objects early enough to deflect them in time.
Does Joe himself lose any sleep over the hazards posed by NEAs? "You bet I do! Six nights each and every month," he says.
Joe is responsible for optics at the Spacewatch telescopes, and in the Radial Velocity Search for Planets with the Keck 2 telescope, and is an observer with the current Spacewatch 36-inch telescope on Kitt Peak. The new 1.8 meter Spacewatch telescope was dedicated on June 7, 1997 and is now being fully fitted-out. Joe has discovered quite a number of NEAs in nearly 3 years' observing, and found two new comets within 3 nights of each other in April, 1997. Both are Comet Montani. Joe is grateful to the Spacewatch team having built up such a system, making these kinds of discoveries actually "easy," he says.
Having made the graceful transition from radio astronomer studying the galaxy, to infrared astronomer studying solar system objects, Joe is enthusiastic to continue with planetary studies, but at optical wavelengths. He has thus worked his way back to the visible part of the spectrum since amateur days. In his words, "I hope to stay visible for a long while with Spacewatch."
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