A Second Act in the Stars

At the ripe age of 79, Bob Loewenthal is chasing his interstellar dreams

Bob Lowenthal

Bob Lowenthal

During World War II, a young Bob Loewenthal stood on the rooftop of his apartment building in New York City on the lookout for the silhouettes of German war planes. Amid the brownouts and blackouts to practice for air raids, he used the momentary darkness above his home in Queens to pursue his love of astronomy.

He would grow up and take a different path — majoring in American history at Cornell University and law at the University of Miami, eventually practicing law for decades — but the 79-year-old, sixth-generation New Yorker, who resides in Atlanta, is now pursuing his lifelong passion for the stars as a master’s student in astronomy.

“Whenever there was something I wanted to do, I simply would do it,” Loewenthal said.

Even in law school, his telescope was at his side. “I never really lost my interest,” he remembers. “I always had a telescope and was a member of the astronomy club.”

He even taught a class in observational astronomy as a graduate assistant, despite having had no formal training.

In 1979, he moved to Atlanta and started a successful law practice. Shortly thereafter, he discovered Georgia State’s physics and astronomy program.

“I asked what I would have to take to get a Ph.D. in astronomy, and I was given some books right before I took the Georgia bar exam,” Loewenthal said. “I went through the books and realized that I would have to spend several years of study. So I took the bar and became a lawyer in Georgia.”

After retiring, he took several undergraduate courses in science at Georgia Perimeter College, where he excelled, and then came to Georgia State.

“Since I’m not going full time, I expect that in the year 2032, I’ll get my Ph.D.,” he said, laughing. “It’s just like that saying: it’s the journey that’s important, not the final destination.”

Loewenthal is studying extragalactic astronomy — the study of space outside of our own galaxy. Specifically, he’s interested in what causes the acceleration of the universe.

He also loves to tell others about astronomy and the vastness of space. He spends time out at GSU’s Hard Labor Creek observatory near Rutledge, Ga., talking with visitors as they wait to use the telescope.

Besides a passion for space — and also having learned how to fly — he enjoys running and completed the ING Georgia Marathon last year. But running for running’s sake is not his thing — Loewenthal gets more out of it when he’s up against someone else, or the clock.

“Once you become competitive, now you have a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not just exercise,” he said. When he competed at the ING Georgia Marathon in 2010, he came in at 6 hours, 20 minutes and 19 seconds.

“That’s not bad for age 77,” Loewenthal said.