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Astronomers Past and Present To Speak in Louisville

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The Louisville Free Public Library is hosting two astronomers this evening, one of whom died in the Civil War and the other a stargazer for the Vatican.

Wednesday's “Beneath the Same Sky” will include a portrayal of General Ormsby Mitchel, who was born in Kentucky in 1810 and was the founder of the Cincinnati Observatory. Mitchel was a West Point graduate who became a popular lecturer. He also published the first monthly magazine in America devoted to astronomy. Mitchel led a division in Ohio during the Civil War and rose to the rank of general.

Tony Dingman, a teaching artist with the Frazier History Museum, assumes the role of Mitchel, delivering one of the astronomer's lectures about the immensity of the universe. Dingman said he was surprised by the depth of Mitchel's knowledge.

"Carl Sagan had this wonderful story or lecture about the 'Pale Blue Dot.' Go further and further and see all these wonderful things and look back and we live on that little dot. [Mitchel's lecture] is a 100-and-some-odd years before that, of a similar style," Dingman said.

Dingman wasn't familiar with Mitchel before taking on the role, but he said he enjoyed learning about the man and the state of 19th Century astronomy.

"We’re talking the Civil War era when he’s doing a lot of his work, but I really had no concept of what we knew astronomically at that time,” said Dingman.

Mitchel’s lecture will be followed by a talk from Brother Guy Consolmagno, who was recently appointed director of the Vatican Observatory. Consolmagno was born in Detroit, served in the Peace Corps in Kenya, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1989. He holds degrees from MIT and the University of Arizona, and he is a frequent speaker at science fiction conventions.

“Beneath the Same Sky” is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Main Library. The event is sold out but standby tickets may be available.