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I am the astronomer at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. My fascination with astronomy started with a visit to Santa's Village in 1959. In the gift shop I decided to buy "The Golden Book of Astronomy" with the money I had been saving for a toy rifle. I was fascinated with the stars and planets and decided to become an astronomer. As a college student at the University of San Francisco, I started working as an usher at the Morrison Planetarium in Golden Gate Park. I later became a lecturer at the Planetarium, which was known for converting people to Catholicism at their annual Christmas show.
I was born Jose Leonel Mena in November 1949 in Granada, Nicaragua. My family moved to San Francisco when I was two years old. It may only be coincidence that I was born in 1949 and have been a life-long San Francisco 49's fan. I enjoy football, baseball, tennis and other sports...but my passions are Star Trek and astronomy. I have attended a Star Trek convention, but I've never dressed as a Klingon!
I received my Bachelor's Degree from the University of San Francisco in 1971 and taught math, physics, and Spanish for 14 years at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco. In 1981 I changed my name to Mena-Werth when I married Jenny Werthimer under the stars at the Morrison Planetarium. In 1985 I left my heart in San Francisco and began graduate studies at the University of Washington. My wife, Jenny, and I were blessed with our first daughter, Paloma, in 1989 ... the same year I earned my Master of Science in Astronomy. I was awarded my Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of Washington in 1992 and my second daughter, Rosemary, arrived in 1993.
We have been in Kearney since 1992 and I continue to study our amazing universe from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The new planetarium at UNK is absolutely a dream come true. It is an amazing facility and I hope each of you have a chance to visit in the future.
Take a moment, if you like, for a multimedia tour of our solar system. In addition to text, pictures, and sound, The Nine Planets contains references to many other resources relating to our solar system.