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Credits > About the Authors

About the Authors

Robert Bruce Thompson became interested in astronomy when he was very young. In 1957, when he was four, his parents took him out in the front yard one autumn evening to look for Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Someone shouted, "There it is!," and he watched, fascinated, as the bright pinpoint of Sputnik blazed its way across the night sky. Robert was hooked on science and space from that moment forward.

By the time he was 10, Robert was using an old binocular that his grandmother had given him to observe open star clusters and other wonders of the night sky. That Christmas, his parents gave him a small refractor that allowed him for the first time to observe Luna at the unprecedented magnification of 100X. That scope held his interest for a couple of years, but, struck by an early case of "aperture fever," he decided to grind his own mirror and build his own 6" Newtonian reflector telescope. In those days, even urban backyards were dark, and Robert spent the next several years exploring the night sky with that 6" scope. Most clear nights, he observed Luna, the planets, double stars, and many of the brighter deep-sky objects, including most of the Messier list.

Alas, life intervened. College, graduate school, jobs, marriage, family— everything seemed to get in the way of continuing the hobby. Then, one evening in late 2000, as Barbara and Robert were walking the dogs, Barbara expressed an interest in astronomy and suggested they buy a telescope. Robert ordered a 10" Dobsonian reflector and has never looked back. He spends his daytime hours writing books about computers (and now astronomy). But on clear, dark nights, you'll find him outdoors observing the night sky.

Barbara Fritchman Thompson can remember lying on the driveway with her dad back in the late 50s and early 60s, looking up at the stars and the Milky Way. They lived inside the city limits but, unlike today, the night sky was dark even in the city. Recently, her mom found an old junior high school project booklet she'd written, entitled "The Stars." Along with basic information about stars, their science, and astronomical tools, she included charts and drawings of how stars change and the major constellations of each season. After that time, around 1969, she seldom thought about the stars or telescopes again until the late 1990s.

As Barbara and Robert were walking the dogs one night, Barbara started noticing bright objects in the sky. She repeatedly asked Bob to identify whatever objects had attracted her attention. At first Robert tried to fool her, telling her stars and constellations had names like Calvin and Hobbes. However, when he realized she was becoming seriously interested in the night sky, they joined a local astronomy club and decided to buy a telescope.

At first Bob planned to grind a mirror and build their telescope. After doing some research, he realized good scopes were much less expensive than they had been in the middle 1960s. To Barbara's delight, the first scope they bought was an Orion XT10 10" Dobsonian. Several months later Bob ordered another scope, a 90mm refractor on an equatorial mount. Barbara hated using it and couldn't find a darn thing with it. Had he purchased that for her first true introduction to astronomy, she would not be sitting here writing this book. He also bought her a 50mm binocular.

During their early observing sessions, Barbara was not very successful with the scope and was an absolute failure with the binocular when it came to locating deep-sky objects. In order to make their observing sessions more productive and give her a structured framework to work within, Robert and Barbara founded the Winston-Salem Astronomical League ( as an affiliate of the national Astronomical League ( Barbara started with the AL Urban Observing and Lunar Clubs. With Bob's coaching and a lot of practice, she became more confident in her abilities. Before long, she'd completed the AL Messier Club list, which requires identifying all 110 of the Messier objects and the AL Binocular Messier Club list. Barbara completed the AL Deep Sky Binocular Club, and is now pursuing the Hershel 400 and Caldwell Club lists.

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