Married with Kathleen
and father of Michiel and Niels
Lives in Landen,
Profession : Vice
President Global R&D/IT at LMS,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 &
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 ?!