Motlow’s Billy Hix travels to Chile as Astronomy Ambassador

Billy Hix, pictured inside his personal observatory located near his home in Shelbyville, is about to start a night under the stars. Hix, who calls the observatory his “happy place,” loves the peace that comes with being alone under the stars, but often has student groups to enjoy the views as well. Motlow Staff Photo.

Billy Hix, pictured inside his personal observatory located near his home in Shelbyville, is about to start a night under the stars. Hix, who calls the observatory his “happy place,” loves the peace that comes with being alone under the stars, but often has student groups to enjoy the views as well. Motlow Staff Photo.

Billy Hix, retired teacher at Motlow State and founder of the Motlow College Foundation STEM Outreach program, recently spent two weeks in Chile serving as one of seven astronomy professionals chosen from across the United States for the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program (ACEAP).

It is impossible to describe the dark skies of Chile and the sights of (observatory) hardware that has no equal on the planet.
— Billy Hix, Motlow College Foundation STEM Outreach Director

Chile is the telescope capital of the world with dark, cloudless skies and the Andes mountains where telescopes reside far from any city. “It is impossible to describe the dark skies of Chile and the sights of (observatory) hardware that has no equal on the planet,” said Hix upon his return home. “Since it was late winter there, the cool weather and low humidity is something I really miss too!”

Hix’s dedication and hard work has not gone unnoticed. He was selected as a 2018 STEM Advocate Award winner, recognizing a Tennessean who has demonstrated a passion for STEM education through public advocacy and participation in leadership organizations that advance STEM education for students. He is also a 2019-2020 NASA Solar System Ambassador and was selected as STEM Teacher of the Year in the United States by the Space Foundation.

ACEAP brings amateur astronomers, planetarium personnel, and K-16 formal and informal astronomy educators to U.S. astronomy facilities in Chile. Ambassadors receive extensive training about instruments, science, data products, and communicating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. Their experiences and observatory resources will be shared with schools and community groups across the US.

Sharing information about the wonders of the night sky and space exploration with young minds is nothing new to Hix, who for over 40 years has dedicated his life’s work to educating and exciting youngsters about outer space.

Since retiring from Motlow in 2015, Hix has visited over 100 area schools each year with his portable planetarium, conducting standards-based lessons to students and teachers. Last year, Hix worked with over 7,000 students and teachers across Tennessee.

While in Chile, Hix was flown up and down the length of the country, which is as long as the United States is wide from New York to California, but only 200 miles at the widest point. He spent time at the Cerro Tololo mountain observatory complex, visiting with scientists who are working on the Gemini telescope and several other large optical telescopes. He also visited the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) that is under construction. When complete, it will have the largest digital camera sensor ever built and will be looking for exoplanets around other stars.