Star & Sky magazine, and how things were nearly different!

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, July 22, 2013

The unpublished story by Dave Eicher destined for Star & Sky magazine. // Credit: David J. Eicher
Most astronomy enthusiasts know about the two big magazines covering the hobby in the United States. Astronomy magazine, of which I’m the editor, is the largest (in the world!), with a circulation in print of 108,000 and an online readership of 380,000+ each month. With 62 percent our circulation, Sky & Telescope is second in size. But not all amateur astronomers know that years ago a third magazine also claimed the spare minutes of enthusiasts, and its name was Star & Sky. — it was much smaller in circulation.

In the late 1970s, Star & Sky seemed to be rollicking along and had found a niche for itself beside the two bigger titles. The magazine featured lots of coverage of amateur astronomy activities such as observing and astrophotography. Personalities in the community such as David Levy and others wrote monthly columns that were well received. At the time, I was publishing my really tiny journal Deep Sky Monthly and had gotten to know folks at the larger magazines. It was clear I wanted to go to work for one of them. At Astronomy, Richard Berry and Robert Burnham were friends through correspondence and at Sky & Telescope I’d gotten to know Dennis di Cicco and Norm Sperling.

In 1980, the folks at Star & Sky asked me to begin writing a column about deep-sky objects. I wrote the first one, “Winter’s Cosmic Bubbles,” submitted it, and received a typeset gallery to check when thunder struck.

Suddenly, the news rolled out that Star & Sky magazine was no more. This left the astronomy community furious because the decision to close followed a big months-long campaign in which the publishers offered discounts on multiyear subscriptions. And, amazingly, the story I heard from a variety of sources was something straight out of film noir. The publisher, so the story went, left his family near New York, disappeared with his secretary, and showed up somewhere in South America. And the money had apparently disappeared, too.

So I never wrote a published story in Star & Sky, and two years later I joined the staff of Astronomy, where I’ve been to this day. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

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