The pioneer of the world's first fully robotic observatory, astronomer Russ Genet travels the world in pursuit of his celestial passion.
His adventures take him to the beaches of New Zealand where he studies the Southern Hemisphere's constellations and camps; to lectures in Hawaii where hundreds of people listen to his expertise; and to a tenure at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif. where he teaches astronomy.
But it's here, on top of the Rim, that Genet and his wife Cheryl, summer visitors since 1988, find their most cherished night skies.
Genet, former Tucson-based Mt. Hopkins observatory director and author of 21 books, seeks the Rim Country's unobstructed summer views of the evening stars.
"On a moonless night you can see the Milky Way," Genet said. "The altitude makes you feel like you're closer. The stars are just beautiful and unblinking."
Genet's writing embraces a comprehensive view of the universe.
It encompasses the earth's relation to the cosmos.
"Humanity: The Chimpanzees Who Would be Ants," scheduled for release later this year, explores a human dichotomy.
He compares our closest relative, the chimpanzee, and its need for intimate connection to the busy, impersonal life of the ant.
"It's our two sides," Genet said. "(Ants) are the only species that build cities, and like the ant, we are just a cog in the machine."
As the chimp's environment shrank three million years ago, they became more hierarchical and more like the ants.
He draws a parallel to the rest of the universe.
"The universe started out simple. It was just a hot ball with simple elements," Genet said. "As time went on, things got more complicated. Humans are the most complex thing in this corner of the universe."
And perhaps, another civilization in some other niche of the universe holds that distinction, too.
"There are billions of galaxies and billions of planets," Genet said. "There has to be something, somewhere."
Back here in Payson, Genet, slim and lanky with a gray beard, takes his telescope on the Rim. There he admires his favorite constellation, Cygnus, the swan of the sky.
Novice astronomers interested in the planetary makeup of our solar system have incredible views to help them begin.
Genet recommends a small telescope or 7-by-50 binoculars.
"Great for looking at the moon and the Milky Way," he said.
With this simple equipment, stargazers can also observe Jupiter and its moons, and watch the planet's smallest satellite, Io, cycle through its phases.
Earthbound viewers should look for Venus in the morning sky, Mars, Saturn and its ring, and, at dawn or dusk, Mercury.
For more information on Genet, visit his Web site at www.orionobservatory.org. To learn about astronomy in Arizona check out Mt. Hopkins' Observatory at www.mmto.org or the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff at www.lowell.edu.
-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.