Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — During World War II, a young Bob Loewenthal stood on the rooftop of his apartment building in New York City on the lookout for the silhouettes of German war planes. Amid the brownouts and blackouts to practice for air raids, he used the momentary darkness above his home in Queens to pursue his love of astronomy.
He would grow up and take a different path – majoring in American history at Cornell University and law at the University of Miami, eventually practicing law for decades.
But the 79-year-old, sixth-generation New Yorker now resides in Atlanta, and is pursuing his lifelong passion for the stars as a master’s student in astronomy at Georgia State University.
“Whenever there was something I wanted to do, I simply would do it,” Loewenthal said.
Even in law school, his telescope was at his side.
“Without any formal course in astronomy in college, because I never really lost my interest, I always had a telescope, and was a member of the astronomy club,” he said. “I read all of the magazines, and without any formal education except an optics course, I taught a class in observational astronomy as a graduate assistant.”
Attracted to the lush greens and hills of Atlanta, he moved to the metro area in 1979 and started a successful law practice. During the 1980s, he discovered Georgia State’s physics and astronomy program.
“I asked what I would have to take to get a Ph.D. in astronomy, and I was given some books, right before I took the Georgia bar exam,” Loewenthal said. “I went through the books and realized that I forgot all of my math, and realized that I would have to spend several years of study. So I took the bar, became a lawyer in Georgia.”
After retiring, he studied several undergraduate courses in science at Georgia Perimeter College, where he excelled, and then came to Georgia State. He’s now studying under Misty Benz, professor of astronomy.
“One of the reasons I like her is that she actually smiles at my bad jokes,” Loewenthal joked. “Since I’m not going full time, I expect that in the year 2032, I will get my Ph.D. It’s just like that saying: it’s the journey that’s important, not the final destination.”
Loewenthal is studying extragalactic astronomy, the study of space outside of our own galaxy. Specifically, he’s interested in what causes the acceleration of the universe.
He also loves to tell others about astronomy and the vastness of space. He spends time out at GSU’s Hard Labor Creek observatory near Rutledge, Ga., talking to visitors as they wait to use the telescope on open house nights.
Besides a passion for space — and also having learned how to fly — he also enjoys running, having completed the ING Georgia Marathon last year. But running for running’s sake is not his thing – Loewenthal gets more out of it when he’s up against someone else, or the clock.
“I once hated running, and I hated exercise for exercise’s sake,” he said. “But once you become competitive, now you have a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not exercise.” When he competed at the ING Georgia Marathon in 2010, he came in at 6 hours, 20 minutes and 19 seconds.
“That’s not bad for age 77,” Loewenthal said.
Sept. 19, 2011