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Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Secret Lives: Daniel Schechter DDS ’72, Astrophotographer

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For the past four decades, the Ostrow faculty member has circled the globe chasing after the perfect shots of eclipses, comets and the stars. 

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14

It was on a trip to a swim meet when Matt Schechter saw it. 

“Hey Dad, guess what I just saw in the Atlanta airport,” Matt said during a call to his father, Clinical Assistant Professor Daniel Schechter DDS ’72.

“What did you see?” the elder Schechter asked.

“I was walking toward the baggage claim, and they have 15 to 20 really large astro photos on the wall,” Matt said. “When I get to the last one, I thought ‘That one looks just like my dad’s picture of [Comet] Hale-Bopp.’”

When Matt walked up to it, he saw the name. 

“Dad, it was your photo!” he said, with excitement in his voice. 

Turns out the picture (see above), which had won a NASA photo contest, was on just one of the many stops it’s made around the world as part of the exhibition, “From the Earth to the Universe.”

The news took Schechter by surprise but also inspired pride. Like Hale-Bopp itself, one of his favorite photographs had traveled around the globe and been seen by millions of people.

Up all night

Schechter discovered his passion for photographing the cosmos after dental school when he returned to junior college to take some science courses — including geology and astronomy — that he had missed the first time around.

It wasn’t long before Schechter was out with his astronomy club, scanning the skies through his telescope and looking for great photographs. 

“Seeing an eclipse just reinforces the dynamics of the universe,” he says. “It reinforces the power of math that we know when and where a total eclipse will occur years into the future.”

—Daniel Schechter DDS ’72

“My wife knew not to schedule anything on New Moon weekends,” says Schechter, who would take advantage of the extra inky nights found in the mountains or deserts for a clearer view of the heavens above. 

“Astrophotography put me in the middle of the wilderness in the middle of the night,” Schechter says. But more than simply appreciating the enormous canopy of stars overhead, Schechter enjoyed the challenge. 

“As an endodontist, I get all the satisfaction of solving problems and doing cases that very few others could do,” says Schechter, who has worked in Ostrow’s graduate endodontics program for nearly 16 years. “It’s the same thing in astrophotography. I travel all over the world to get quality pictures that most other people weren’t getting.”

Chasing eclipses

Over the years, Schechter has become a solar eclipse enthusiast, circling the globe to photograph the awe-inspiring phenomenon. He’s journeyed to Hawaii, Bolivia, Aruba and Turkey and has witnessed six total eclipses of the sun (there would have been seven, but clouds obscured one). 

During the most recent total solar eclipse visible in North America (Aug. 21, 2017), Schechter and his wife Pat traveled to Oregon to see the solar spectacle.

“I told my wife I wasn’t going to photograph this one because I wanted to just enjoy it,” says Schechter, who had waited 26 years for a total solar eclipse that he could drive to. “But then I thought, ‘Are you crazy? You can throw all your equipment in the back of the SUV and go.’” (See his picture of that eclipse above.)

Though Schechter doesn’t get out to photograph the stars as much as he used to, he’s already looking ahead to the next eclipse visible in North America on April 8, 2024.

“Seeing an eclipse just reinforces the dynamics of the universe,” he says. “It reinforces the power of math that we know when and where a total eclipse will occur years into the future.” 


This story originally appeared in the TroDent, the official publication for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Read more stories like this in our Spring 2018 issue.

 

 

Posted May 2018