Aboard NASA's Leonid MAC 99

Observing at Yerkes Observatory (1997)

I was born on March 23, 1956. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. I have been employed at Washington University in St. Louis since 1985, where I am a programmer analyst, and I occasionally teach classes on certain software programs. I married my wife Kathy in 2005. I have two sons, David and Michael, from a previous marriage and two stepdaughters, Mary and Laura.

My interest in astronomy began in 1965. Although I was very interested in the Mercury and Gemini space programs while in grade school, it was Mariner 4's close-up images of Mars that were shown on television on July 16 of that year that hooked me on this hobby. I received my first telescope, a 1.5-inch refractor, during Christmas of 1965, and spent the next two years observing the moon, which was about the only thing worth looking at with such a telescope.

Seeing that I continued to show an interest in astronomy, my parents bought me a 6-cm Jason-Empire refractor in March of 1968. This scope was large enough for me to really enjoy the moon, as well as observe most of the planets and hundreds of deep sky objects. I have since purchased a 15-cm Criterion reflector (1973), 20x80 binoculars (1976), a 33-cm Coulter Odyssey reflector (1985), an Orion ShortTube 80, a 20-cm Celestron Newtonian reflector, an Orion Astroview 120, and a 20-cm Meade LX-200 GPS (2005).

Comet Kohoutek of 1973/1974 became a defining moment in my life, as my observing, researching, and writing about comets began with it. I observed this comet on 1973 November 30. It was a tough observation because clouds were covering the comet that morning, while the rest of the sky was clear. Wanting to observe my first comet, I observed other objects until the clouds had moved away from the comet's position. When I finally saw the comet I was greeted by an elongated fuzzy object. Such an observation might seem boring to some people, but the thought that this comet had last graced the skies of our planet about 11 million years earlier was inspiring to me. I began researching comets as December began and wrote a paper on the comet for an English class in high school. The teacher liked it so much, she submitted it to the local paper and I was published for the first time.

Observing, researching, and writing about comets continues up to this day. As of the spring of 2006, I have made over 2000 observations of over 130 comets. I regularly make trips to libraries doing research. I have had seven books published. I have also been published in Sky and Telescope, Astronomy, Icarus, Mercury, the Journal of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, Meteor News, the Journal of the International Meteor Organization, and numerous club newsletters.

My first two books were published by Enslow Publishers, Inc. They were Comets: A Descriptive Catalog (1984) and Meteor Showers: A Descriptive Catalog (1988).

Although both books were rather successful, I was never really happy with the comet book because it was not what I really wanted to do. I had envisioned something of a larger scale involving multiple volumes. But it was my first book, the publisher wanted it his way, so I went with that. That book turns out to be a nice summary of the well-observed comets through history.

I continued to research comets and several professional astronomers were aware that I hoped to eventually write a multi-volume series on comets. That opportunity came in 1995 when I was approached by Cambridge University Press after they were informed of my project by one of those astronomers. Thus, I began formally writing Cometography, which will span six volumes when completed and will discuss every observed comet from ancient times up through 1995. Volume one was published in 1999, volume two was published in 2003, volume three was published in 2007, volume four was published in 2008, and volume 5 was published in 2010. Volume 5 was co-written with my friend Maik Meyer of Germany. We are currently in the process of writing the 6th and final volume of Cometography.

Since I have raised two kids, it has been a lot of fun introducing them to the stars. This, in turn, got me interested in educating others about astronomy. I have been a Sky Search badge couselor for the Girl Scouts since 1992 and have been an Astronomy merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts since 1995. I also give talks at various local schools around St. Louis, as well as the Challenger Center in St. Louis. During 1999, the St. Louis Academy of Sciences invited me to join their guest speaker list. Between the scouting programs and the Academy of Science I have helped educate more than 1500 children about astronomy (most in the last 6 years), which I feel is one of the most rewarding of my accomplishments.

One of my most exciting opportunities came in September 1999, when Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute at NASA/Ames Research Center) offered me a position on the 1999 Leonid MAC (Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign), a joint NASA and United States Air Force mission over western Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to study the November 1999 appearance of the Leonid meteor shower. I worked on the flux measurement team using light intensified cameras and video head displays to determine the population density of the Leonid meteor shower on three nights around the time of maximum. You can read about my adventure.

During January 2004, the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center announced that minor planet number 48300 was being given the name "Kronk," to honor me for the extensive research I have done for my Cometography series. This minor planet orbits the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered by Charles Juels and Paulo Holvorcem on 2002 June 11 and received the preliminary designation 2002 LG35. Although not officially measured, this minor planet is probably somewhere between 10 and 20 miles in diameter.

Clear nights are sometimes very difficult for me. Do I observe comets or continue to write? Although writing has frequently won out in the past, I have just built an observatory, which will make observing quite easy and leave me very little time to write.

My web sites:

My astro images:

My Observatory: