BHC astronomer talks life’s journey

Kamila Vargas-Gonzalez, Contributing Writer

Usually spotted wearing a vibrant, tropical patterned short sleeve button-up shirt and foam padded sneakers, Chaz Hafey, astronomer, geologist and lab specialist at Dallas College Brookhaven Campus, visits up to six classes almost every day in K Building.

Like the star clusters Hafey observes in the sky, he is part of a cluster of organizations and activities outside of Dallas College. All are related to astronomy. “Sleep would be good,” Hafey said as he got comfortable in one of the many chairs in Room K251. “There are things constantly going on in the sky.”

Hafey has dedicated his career to his passion for astronomy. From a young age, his eyes have stayed glued to the sky in search of astronomical wonders.

1960s Sky Effects

In 1966, a young Hafey stepped out from his home and joined his father on the concrete driveway. With their chins pointed to the sky, father and son admired the glowing streaks running through the atmosphere: a meteor shower. The bright rays reflected in both of their eyes.

Since then, Hafey has remained enchanted by the lights in the sky. He received a Bachelor of Science in astronomy at The Ohio State University. “Emphasize the ‘The,’” Hafey said, chuckling as he remembered his Alma mater’s attempt at trademarking the word “The.”

I was given the option of naming an asteroid, and I named one Brookhaven.

— Chaz Hafey, Brookhaven Campus Physical Sciences Lab Specialist

Soon after entering college, Hafey went through a difficult chapter in his life.

Hafey said he decided to move out of his parent’s home because he was driving between work, school and home. He moved in with a friend in an apartment close to his college campus. Two weeks before he moved out, his parents separated. In the same year, his grandparents, dog and cat died. Hafey was 20 years old, and either withdrew from or failed every class he took that year.

“Obviously, I survived,” Hafey said, smiling and gesturing toward Room K251, where labs take place for Brookhaven students. “Maybe I had to go through that so I could look at a student in their face and say, ‘I know, I’ve had challenges too.’”

Wondrous Students

If the sky is clear and there is little to no wind, stargazing observing sessions for the astronomy students are a go. Hafey said he finds students’ reactions to looking through telescopes more memorable than anything he has seen through a telescope himself.

“When they first see the moon through a telescope, they say, ‘I can see craters.’” Hafey said with wide eyes and a tight smile. “You can do that with binoculars.”

Saturn especially fascinates Hafey’s students. Through the telescope, Saturn’s rings reflect in the students’ eyes, and their smiles reflect in Hafey’s.

Students at Brookhaven who take astronomy courses are familiar with Hafey. Julia Wagner, a dual credit student, said, “He’s enjoyable to work with and helpful in a lab scenario.”

Hafey said, “I want to infect people with a love for astronomy.”

Sitting at one of the black science lab tables, Hafey stares with his chin pointing slightly up at the three award plaques on the wall of Room K251, two from NASA and one from Pan-STARRS. “I was given the option of naming an asteroid, and I named one Brookhaven,” he said.

For Fun

Two decades ago, Hafey participated in the Messier Marathon in an observatory north of Columbus, Ohio. His team saw 108 out of the 110 of Charles Messier’s list of objects, such as galaxies, nebulae, star clusters and birth and death places of stars. “[It was] back in the late ’70s or early ’80s,” he said.

In 2017, Hafey planned a trip to see a total solar eclipse. He said, “A friend of mine and I went up to Roberts, Idaho, and we were able to see where the moon completely blacked out the sun for two minutes, and then we could see stars in the sky in the middle of the day.”

While Hafey spends a lot of time traveling across the country, he is also part of the Dallas Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, where he obtained his amateur radio license. “I became a member of CERT in Dallas through a whole week-long training session,” Hafey said.

As an amateur radio operator, learning disaster response skills for emergencies such as severe weather storms is critical. Preparation and practice is key. Practice for Hafey includes Turkey Trots, the Plano Balloon Festival and bicycle races. During these events, amateur radio operators radio each other, checking whether the event is going smoothly.

“When I first got my amateur radio license, the Dallas Amateur Radio Club was meeting in a church across the street because it was a free room,” Hafey said. “I went to their December meeting, and I applied for membership. The president of the club at the time, Tom General, was reading off all the stuff to the whole group, and they said, ‘Astronomy? You do astronomy? I need to talk to you afterward.’” 

Hafey was talked into being part of a broadcast on astronomy, which can be viewed on YouTube. The channel is DARC Skynet – Astronomy Net. He said: “We broadcast not only over amateur radio, but we do it over the internet on YouTube. It’s every Saturday night from 9 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. I think we’re in our 13th year of doing this.”