During the early hours of the morning, Mr. Peter Detterline can be found wide awake in his own backyard observatory looking up at the night sky- taking pictures and doing research on distant stars and planets.
After 36 years, the planetarium director and astronomy teacher will be retiring from the Boyertown Area School District in June, and will have more time to devote to his hobby. He officially announced his retirement with the district in February.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of different things lined up: I’m going to be working with robotic observatories, and I still be teaching college-- but it’s time to move on to some other projects.”
While leaving Boyertown, Detterline will still be teaching online and hybrid college classes. He currently teaches at Montgomery County Community College as an astronomy professor, but has also taught at Kutztown, West Chester, and Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Instead, he will be working on building a brand new robotic observatory in Utah.
“In my dual enrollment classes, students are using observatories from around the world- and they’re doing projects and research on them. I want this telescope to be part of that so students will be able to use this observatory remotely.”
He mentions that this new observatory will not operate as many before, where students and universities will have to fight for observing time, only to go out and see cloudy or faulty conditions; the whole process will be streamlined and automated.
“This telescope is, ‘I want to take a picture of this comet, these are the filters, this is the exposure, submit.’ The next day the picture will be on the computer. It makes it so much simpler.”
Detterline’s passion for astronomy came from a camping trip that his dad took him on when he was six years old.
“I remember laying out under the stars and looking up-- I just couldn’t believe how beautiful the sky was with the Milky Way spread across it. I thought it was the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget that sky and just wanted to learn more.”
He became interested in being a planetarium director during his time in college at Kutztown University. After earning his teaching degree, he applied to become a part-time planetarium director in Erie.
“I didn’t get the job. They gave it to the channel 35 weather man. Boyertown called the next year and the planetarium opening was down here, and I was fortunate enough to get it.”
Years later, he spends much of his free time in his own observatory with a Celestron 11 inch telescope-- fixed on the night sky.
“I could have a really long day at school, teaching classes and astronomy. There’s nothing better than to go home, unwind, and look up at the stars. There’s nothing better than astronomy, because that’s what I like to do.”
Besides astronomy, Detterline also enjoys travelling. He has travelled all over the world to see eclipses, including journeys to China and Africa. However following his retirement, Detterline has a different plan.
“I want to climb Mt. Fuji. For some reason, since college, I wanted to do it. I contacted my college roommate and said, ‘I’m retiring, I think I’m going to climb Mt. Fuji.’ and he said he would join me. We’re looking at that.”
He mentions that the bulk of his travels, though, will still be based on astronomy and viewing rare eclipses.
In addition, Detterline enjoys hiking, Tai Chi, and serves as a commissioned minister.
“I substitute-pastor for different churches and I enjoy that. I’ve been very busy in the last few months and I’ve barely missed a Sunday.”
Detterline’s last planetarium show will take place on Tuesday April 18 and Thursday April 20 at 7 p.m at the Boyertown Planetarium. The show will focus on an eclipse that will occur in August later this year.