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Tonny Vanmunster

Married with Kathleen and father of Michiel and Niels

Lives in Landen, Belgium

Profession : Vice President Global R&D/IT at LMS, Belgium

Other interests : nature hiking & computer science

My first interest in astronomy started back in 1973 as a 12-year old. I was fascinated (as were many youngsters of my age) by the Apollo missions to the moon. 1973 was also the famous comet Kohoutek year. I still remember my desperate binocular sweeps during twilight. I got my first telescope (a Tasco 2" refractor) in 1974. In these early days, I really explored every possible domain of amateur astronomy. I made drawings of my observations of the major planets, I tried to follow the eclipses of Algol, did some astrophotography and was an enthusiastic meteor observer.

The more serious work started in 1975, when I set up my first systematic variable star observing programme (mainly mira's and semi-regular objects), and saw my first comet (Kobayashi-Berger-Milon). Two myriad's of the seventies, that for ever will be marked in my memory, are naked-eye Nova Cygni 1975 and the unsurpassed Comet West 1976 (I saw its tail rising above the horizon, even before the nucleus).

The next 10 years, I spread my astronomical interests over 2 fields : variable stars (using a 11.5-cm telescope) and meteors. In the early 80's, I formed a European Photographic Meteor Network for simultaneous observations. We spent heroic times observing from atop the platform of famous Jungfraujoch Observatory (Swiss), where we witnessed the first Perseid meteor 'storm' of the mid 80's. Another most remarkable event took place during a 2-week meteor observing session in a small Swiss village : we were that much hampered by some nearby streetlights, that we decided to temporarily turn off the nearest one. The resulting (unwanted) short circuit finally put the entire village without streetlights for a few nights ...

My 'calmest' astronomical years came around the end of the 80's, when I started my professional career and got married. But the variable star microbe never was far away and it struck back (very hard) in 1992. I traded my 11-cm telescope for a 35-cm dobsonian and systematically started to observe dwarf novae. My hobby turned into a 'passion'. Gradually, I included the more peculiar objects (the ones with very infrequent outbursts) in my observing programme. Soon, I got in contact with many amateurs and professionals abroad, with whom I maintain most enjoyable contacts.

Despite the enormous light pollution in Belgium -I feel sad to say that we are among the most light polluted countries on this planet- I managed to make several thousands of variable star estimates a year, almost all of cataclysmic variables (peak year total was approx. 9000 observations). I participated in special visual observing programmes for dwarf novae (e.g., the UK Recurrent Objects Programme). In addition, I also created my own dwarf novae program, called the Cataclysmic Variables Alert Programme CVAP. Besides the pure observing work, I enjoyed setting up and coordinating CV-promotion activities. Examples are the CVAP and the Cataclysmic Variables Circulars (CVC).

In between my variable star observing work, I continued to observe other celestial events too. As an illustration : on January 12th, 1993, I made a succesfull visual observation of the occultation of PPM 154323 (a mag 9.2 star) by minor planet 1330 Spiridonia (Stamm, J. 1996. Reports of asteroidal appulses and occultations. Occultation Newsletter 6: 221-224), the first time such an event was observed from Belgium.

At the end of 1995, I got in contact with Dr. Joe Patterson of Columbia University, NY, who was planning to set up two European branches for his Center for Backyard Astrophysics (CBA) network. The primary objective of the CBA is to study cataclysmic variables. A few months later, in May 1996, I started submitting my first CCD observations, obtained using an SBIG ST-7 CCD and Meade 0.25-m f/6.3 telescope. Early 1996, I implemented my 'childhood dream' and built my own observatory (3m x 4m). It is now named "CBA Belgium Observatory".

In 1999, I upgraded my observatory infrastructure. I switched  my Meade  telescope for a 0.35-m f/6.3 Celestron C14, and purchased an AstroTechniek FM-98 professional equatorial mount. I automated the entire setup and implemented some software for remote control of the equipment. Every clear night is now used to obtain CCD photometry observations of cataclysmic variables. 

Over the years, I have visually detected many long-awaited outbursts of cataclysmic variables with long recurrence periods. Once I got involved in CCD photometry, I detected quite some new superhumping dwarf novae.  

Every now and then, I mix my variable star research work with some other aspects of astronomy. Examples are my observations of the Leonids 1999 and 2001 meteor storms (the latter from Flagstaff, AZ), and multi-night photometry of minor planet 1999 KW4 in May 2001. 

In 2002, I established an automated supernova search-program, that is executed during break times, i.e., when no significant CV research is possible. My first success was the (co)discovery of supernova 2002jy, on December 18th, 2002. This was the first supernova discovery from Belgium, and therefore attracted a lot of attention in national newspapers and even on television.

In August 2004, I extended my observatory by adding a second 0.35-m f/6.3 Celestron C14 telescope. I purchased an Astrophysics AP-1200 GTO mount, and equipped the telescope with an SBIG ST-7XME CCD camera. Both telescopes primarily are used for variable star research work (cataclysmic variables, but occasionally also RR Lyrae and Delta Scuti stars). In 2004, I joined the Transitsearch.org network to participate in observing campaigns of exoplanets. On Sep 1st, 2004, I was the first amateur to detect a transit of exoplanet TrES-1. The detection was covered in detail in the January 2005 issue of Sky & Telescope.

I truly believe variable star observers are privileged among amateur astronomers : I know of no other discipline in amateur astronomy that brings together amateurs and professionals in such an intense manner, through collaborative networks all over the world. And to be honest, after a long day at work, I always look forward reading email from my astronomical friends (if it's cloudy), or going outside for a couple of hours to relax under a magnificent sky. After all, it's the Human Contacts factor of our hobby that makes it all worthwhile, isn't it ?!



Copyright 2005 - Tonny Vanmunster. All rights reserved