David J. Eicher
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David John Eicher (born August 7, 1961, Oxford, Ohio) is an American editor, writer, and popularizer of astronomy and space. He has been editor-in-chief of Astronomy magazine since 2002. He is author, coauthor, or editor of 17 books on science and American history and is known for having founded a magazine on astronomical observing, Deep Sky Monthly, when he was a 15-year-old high school student.
Eicher is also a historian, having researched and written extensively about the American Civil War. He is also active and interested in studying minerals, with a collection of more than 1,000 specimens, and is a drummer who plays with the Astro Blues Band.
Eicher was born in Oxford, Ohio on August 7, 1961. He was born into a scientific family, the son of John Harold Eicher (1921– ), a professor of organic chemistry at Miami University in Oxford, who as a young man was a Manhattan Project scientist, and housewife Susan Ann (née Arne) Eicher (1923–1983). His sister Nancy Eicher (1959– ) is a journalist and bookseller. His great uncle was Ethan Nathan Allen (1904–1993), a professional baseball player and baseball coach at Yale University whose players included George H. W. Bush. His great-great grandfather Darius Wetzel (1839–1903) fought with the 74th Ohio Infantry in the Civil War, which influenced Eicher more than a century later.
Eicher grew up in a suburb of the small town of Oxford, with relatively dark skies overhead. He attended William Holmes McGuffey Laboratory School (a school for offspring of Miami University employees) and Talawanda High School, where he was involved in band activities, playing snare drum in marching band, drum set in “stage band,” and tympani in orchestra. He was also actively interested in American history, having taken many trips around the United States, and in science, leaning toward a career as a doctor.
This changed in early 1976 when he attended a “star party” in Oxford and Eicher looked at Saturn through a telescope. He was immediately attracted to astronomy and set off exploring the sky with binoculars, joining the local astronomy club, and beginning to write for their publication when another contributor quit. Eicher had significant enthusiasm for writing about star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies — objects in deep space beyond the solar system — and by June 1977 commenced publishing Deep Sky Monthly, a journal for similar observers. Although the publication began with a tiny circulation and was produced with his father’s office mimeograph machine, Deep Sky Monthly caught on and soon had a circulation of several hundred copies among astronomy enthusiasts. By the time Eicher started attending Miami University in Oxford, focusing on physics, he continued producing the magazine, which had gone to a commercial printer with slick paper and offset photo printing, reaching a circulation of 1,000.
Eicher became well known in the astronomy hobby, and was well connected, looking to various professional astronomers as mentors for career advice, Carl Sagan, Bart Bok, and Clyde Tombaugh among them. In the fall of 1982 Eicher left his schooling after three years of college when Richard Berry, then editor of Astronomy, offered him a position as assistant editor and a continuance of Eicher’s magazine, now retitled Deep Sky and to be published quarterly. In September 1982 Eicher moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Astronomy was based, and began his career in journalism and popularizing his favorite topic, astronomy.
Eicher began his career at AstroMedia Corp., the magazine’s publisher, in September 1982 and immediately became a specialist writing and editing stories about the hobby of astronomy, observing the sky, photographing objects in it, and how to use telescopes. He was assistant editor of Astronomy and editor of Deep Sky, and was actively mentored by Berry and by then-Associate Editor Robert Burnham. Eicher wrote many stories about observing deep-sky objects, comets, and other sky targets, and was the publication’s photo editor. Deep Sky started fast and quickly became influential in spreading the word about the ease of observing many previously little-known sky objects, growing to a circulation of 15,000 over the coming few years. The 1980s were an active time for amateur astronomy with the new space shuttle program and the approach of the celebrated Halley’s Comet, which would be visible in backyard telescopes in 1985 and 1986. Eicher became the point man on observing Halley’s Comet and wrote many stories about it during the middle of the decade.
In 1985 Kalmbach Publishing Co., the Milwaukee publisher of Model Railroader, Trains, and other titles, bought AstroMedia Corp. and the Astronomy staff moved across town. Eicher’s role in the magazine deepened as he worked on many science stories as well as observing pieces and by decade’s end, the company moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin, 16 miles west of Milwaukee, and by that time Eicher was promoted to associate editor. He also published his first books, The Universe from Your Backyard (a compilation of deep-sky observing stories first published in Astronomy), and Deep-Sky Observing with Small Telescopes, an anthology about clusters, nebulae, and galaxies written by a variety of contributors. Both were received with acclaim in the amateur astronomy community.
In 1992 Editor Richard Berry left Astronomy magazine and his quarterly Telescope Making, which had been published alongside Deep Sky, ceased publication. Kalmbach faced the decision of what to do with Deep Sky. Time spent on this project limited Eicher’s progression on Astronomy, and so the company decided to cease publishing Deep Sky as well. Eicher published four books in 1992 and his role with Astronomy expanded further. In 1996 Eicher was promoted to be the magazine’s senior editor and within a few weeks Robert Burnham left, Bonnie Gordon was hired as editor, and Eicher became managing editor. Two bright comets, Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, lifted the hobby into a new burst of activity.
By the middle of 2002 Gordon left and Eicher became Astronomy magazine’s sixth editor in chief. He has sharpened the title into being the leader in its field in every respect, with the greatest circulation, most influential website (www.Astronomy.com), many successful special publications, and a program of astronomy outreach for the community that outmatches those of competitors. In his tenure at the magazine, Eicher has written or edited more than 500 stories.
Promotion of astronomy
Eicher has appeared on CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, WGN radio, National Public Radio, MSNBC, CNBC, and other media outlets to promote the science and hobby of astronomy.
Eicher frequently travels to speak on astronomy or view solar eclipses with tour groups to such places as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, England, France, the Galapagos Islands, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Tunisia, and Turkey. In 2013 he was invited to speak about great advances in astronomy and on comets at Harvard University, in the Phillips Auditorium of Harvard College Observatory.
Eicher is active promoting astronomy outreach to a younger generation. Since 2011, he has been president of the Astronomy Foundation (originally titled the Astronomy Outreach Foundation), the first ever trade association for the telescope industry.
Eicher’s service to the astronomy world was recognized in 1990 when the International Astronomical Union named minor planet 3617 Eicher (discovery designation = 1984 LJ) in his honor. The asteroid, a main belt object in orbit between Mars and Jupiter, was discovered by astronomer Brian A. Skiff at Lowell Observatory’s Anderson Mesa Station in 1984 and the citation was proposed and written by astronomer David H. Levy.
In 2013, in anticipation of the approach of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), Eicher produced a popular book about the science, history, and observation of comets, COMETS! Visitors from Deep Space (Cambridge University Press).
As of 2013, he is a regular blogger on astronomy and science topics for The Huffington Post.
Civil War history
Eicher has written eight books on the subject, including Dixie Betrayed (Little, Brown), The Longest Night (Simon and Schuster), Civil War High Commands (Stanford Univ. Press), and The Civil War in Books (Univ. of Illinois Press).
He has also been active in promoting Civil War remembrance and education and was appointed by Wisconsin Governor James Doyle to serve on the state’s Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in 2009.
In 2013 Eicher donated his Civil War library of more than 4,000 volumes, collected since 1982, to the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and Ulysses S. Grant Association at Mississippi State University.
Eicher lives near Big Bend, Wisconsin, with his wife, Lynda Ann Tortomasi Eicher (1961– ). His son, Christopher David Eicher (born December 18, 1992), is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Eicher was baptized a Methodist as a child but has since described his religious and philosophical views as “following science.”
- COMETS! Visitors from Deep Space (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
- Astronomy Magazine: The Complete Collection (DVD), including The History of Astronomy Magazine (Kalmbach, 2011)
- Lincoln the Liberal Strategist (Or, a Good Man is Hard to Find) (The Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin, 2011)
- A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Bicentennial, 1809–2009) (Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, 2009)
- 50 Greatest Mysteries of the Universe (Kalmbach, 2007)
- Dixie Betrayed: How the Confederacy Really Lost the Civil War (Little Brown, 2006)
- Beginner’s Guide to Astronomy (Kalmbach, 2003)
- Gettysburg Battlefield: The Definitive Photographic History (Chronicle Books, 2003)
- The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (Simon and Schuster, 2001)
- Civil War High Commands (coauthor, with John H. Eicher, Stanford University Press, 2001)
- Mystic Chords of Memory: Civil War Battlefields and Historic Sites Recaptured (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)
- Robert E. Lee: A Life Portrait (Taylor, 1997)
- The Civil War in Books: An Analytical Bibliography (University of Illinois Press, 1997)
- Civil War Battlefields: A Touring Guide (Taylor, 1995)
- Beginner’s Guide to Amateur Astronomy (Kalmbach, 1993)
- The New Cosmos: The Astronomy of Our Galaxy and Beyond (editor, Kalmbach, 1992)
- Galaxies and the Universe: An Observing Guide from Deep Sky Magazine (editor and coauthor, Kalmbach, 1992)
- Stars and Galaxies: Astronomy’s Guide to Observing the Cosmos (editor and coauthor, Kalmbach, 1992)
- Beyond the Solar System: 100 Best Deep-Sky Objects for Amateur Astronomers (Kalmbach, 1992)
- Civil War Journeys calendar (Tide-mark, 1990–2000)
- Deep Sky Observing with Small Telescopes (Enslow, 1989)
- The Universe from Your Backyard (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
- May, Hal, ed.: Contemporary Authors, vol. 113, page 141, Gale Research Co., Detroit, Michigan, 1985;
- May, Hal, ed.: Contemporary Authors, vol. 113, page 141, Gale Research Co., Detroit, Michigan, 1985;
- CNN Headine News, September 8, 2004, August 31, 2004, June 8, 2004, May 14, 2004, March 15, 2004, January 14, 2004, November 7, 2003, and August 26, 2003; Next@CNN, July 6, 2003; CNN, August 27, 2003; CNN Saturday, August 23, 2003; CNN International, March 4, 2003; Fox News Channel, May 11, 2004; National Public Radio Morning Edition June 8, 2004; WGN Radio Steve and Johnnie Show July 6, 2004; WGN Radio Nick D and Garry Lee Show June 25, 2004; WGN Milt Rosenberg Show September 27, 2002.
- Astronomy.com - David J. Eicher, Editor