Welcome to Houston Astronomical Society

Founded in 1955, Houston Astronomical Society is an active community of enthusiastic amateur and professional astronomers with over 60 years of history in the Houston area. Through education and outreach, our programs promote science literacy and astronomy awareness. We meet on the first Friday of each month at the University of Houston. Membership has a variety of benefits, including access to a secure dark site west of Houston, a telescope loaner program, and much more. Joining is simple; you can sign up online, by mail or in person at a monthly meeting.

A Beginner's Checklist for the Texas Star Party

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2017.

by Allen Wilkerson

I have been asked by many people what to take or how to prepare for the Texas Star Party or TSP. While specifics will vary for person to person there are some concepts to keep in mind when preparing to attend TSP.

TSP.PNGWEATHER. Do not kid yourself, even in May the nights will get cold in the high dry air. You will need a heavy jacket, gloves, and a head cover. While the temperature may not seem cold (numerically), after being in the hot Texas sun during the day, the heat will disappear extremely quickly at night. Do bring a camera, the scenery and wildlife  are absolutely breathtaking.

SITE GEAR. You will need some kind of ground cover to both set your gear on and keep some of the dust down. RV stores sell excellent ground covers or mats; however,  a plastic tarp will sweat and flap incessantly. Whichever ground cover you get, it will need to be staked to the ground with strong tent nails. The ground is very dense and  compact so do not forget to bring a small crowbar to pull the nails back up with. Any gear you leave on the field will need to be covered with a tarp—yes, stake this down  too. Ideally you need to put some type of spacer between the tarp and your gear for circulation. The Texas sun can be extremely hot during the day and will "cook" anything in a container. If you bring an awning be sure to stake it down as well, the winds can be very strong during the day. You will need a 50 foot or long extension cord with a multi outlet end for telescope power, dew heaters, laptop, red lighting, etc. You will need to bring insect repellant for ants and flies. A small first aid kit is highly  recommended, and if you need prescription drugs, be sure to bring extra in a separate location just in case—you will misplace them. Water or drinks and plenty of it. Here on the coast we are not used to how dry it is in West Texas and you will dehydrate quickly. Ladies, do bring a large container of moisturizer. My wife takes a quart size and usually runs out by day four. Do bring several trash bags and remove the trash from your  area EVERY day. You do not want a visit from the resident skunk or the javelins (wild pigs) that live in the area.

ASTRONOMY GEAR. My first excursion to TSP was a serious eye opener about this one. Set up your telescope(s) in your yard at home and put everything needed to operate them in a designated container. Many is the person uttering curses about forgetting a cable, counterweight, tripod, finder, eyepieces (yes, one person made it all the way out there without his eyepieces), telescope (how that happened is still a mystery) and accessories. Placing these items into a container and knowing everything is
in one place can stop the inevitable "Where is the ????" if you don’t. Your telescope(s) will need a cover. And the telescope MUST be secured to the ground to prevent the wind from blowing it over (we have all seen this happen). Change every battery you have or have a spare for every piece of equipment you have with you and bring  extras. My first trip required changing four different batteries on the field courtesy of another member who had extras. This includes your red-light flashlights. Do bring
several extra ones.

SUNDRIES. The rest of what you will need is up to you, think sleeping gear, clothes, etc. Remember that this is West Texas, and a small town at that. Katy has more people and stores than all of Jeff Davis county. Ft. Stockton and Midland are the largest nearby towns and they are a decent amount of time to get to and from the site.
Above all, enjoy the exemplary night sky and companionship of people who share your passion and make some new friend.

President's Letter

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2017.

by Rene Scandone Gedaly

I was marveling at the very personal email responses from members who either rejoined or bade farewell to HAS when I came across an article by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks wrote about two types of organizations, thick ones and thin, sparked by his memories of working a summer camp some thirty years ago alongside the recently fallen firefighter in Watertown. Yes, he was remembering the firefighter but also the organization that had molded them both.

MoonLightingDarkSite.PNGThere are two types of organizations, wrote Brooks. Thin organizations “look to take advantage of people’s strengths and treat people as resources to be marshaled.” Thick ones, by contrast, inspire us to give of our best selves and leave a lasting mark on our fellows. 

That same morning, as it happens, a photo of the moon lighting the dark site through the morning fog was shared on Netslyder; it inspired much admiration and discussion. Looking through the photographer’s online catalog of observatories in various stages of construction, a member was inspired to call it a record of “HAS City.”

To me the photo communicates the soul of what it means to be an amateur astronomer, to defiantly brave the weather and nevertheless put down roots in the knowledge that better conditions may come the very next night. Or the next. And it reminds me that HAS is indeed one of those thick organizations. HAS—and the people in it—have left their mark and will be well remembered another thirty years hence. 

Asterisms - Napoleon's Hat, Picot 1

Original article appears in GuideStar May, 2017.

By: Steve Goldberg

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.

Constellation: Bootes

Right Ascension: 14 h 15 m 01 s

Declination: 18o 30’ 46”

Magnitude: 9 to 10                                         

This asterism is composed of 7 stars in the shape of Napoleon’s Hat. This asterism is located very near the star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes.

 

French Astronomer Fulbert Picot discovered this interesting seven star grouping. Some listings call it Picot 1 or Napoleon's Hat, since it resembles the famous divan.

Deep Sky Object of the Month - M3

by Stephen Jones

Objects: M3
Constellation: Canes Venatici
Type: Globular Cluster
Magnitudes: 6.2
Discoverer: Charles Messier, 1764
Equipment necessary: Should be fairly easy to detect as a nebulous object in binoculars or a small telescope; naked-eye detection has been reported, but should be exceedingly difficult. Resolution into stars begins in a 4-inch, resolved completely in a 12-inch.

It is a common misconception, generally by folks who have spent more time looking at photographs than doing visual observing, that globular clusters all look the same. Not so! Photos of globulars tend to overexpose the core to bring out the outer filaments, blurring much of the distinctiveness of the individual cluster, but visually we can see these differences easily. M3 is perhaps my favorite among the bright globulars for its distinctive shape.

M3, while bright, can be somewhat of a challenge to locate, just because it’s in a very isolated area with few bright stars very close to its position. One way of locating it is to imagine it as one vertex of a large near-equilateral triangle with Arcturus and ρ Boötis. Another way is to follow a line from γ Comae Berenicis to β Comae Berenicis and continue East

One of the more interesting historical observations of M3 comes from the 19th century British amateur astronomer Admiral William Smyth, whose “Bedford Catalogue” was the very first book ever written in the genre that we visual observers can’t get enough of: the observing guide. In his lengthy description of M3, he compares it to a jellyfish, and illustrates his impression with the sketch seen here.

Smyth’s asymmetrical description of M3 appears to be at odds with popular astronomy works of the 20th century; the revered Burnham’s Celestial Handbook mentions nothing of this feature of M3, and Kenneth Glyn Jones in his work Messier’s Nebulae and Star Clusters even mentions Smyth’s description and actively disagrees with it, stating that he saw the stars to be very evenly distributed. Having read these descriptions before I ever observed M3, I expected the newer sources would be closer to what I would see, so imagine my surprise as I first turned my scope to it and saw Admiral Smyth’s jellyfish staring me in the face! Even more interestingly, on subsequent observations it looked much more round. Could it be the stars on the side that Smyth observed as more compressed (top left in the sketch) are fainter, so that the cluster assumes the jellyfish shape with smaller scopes or poorer transparency, but looks rounder under conditions where those stars are more easily seen? What do you see when you look at M3?

HAS Texas 45 Honor Roll

tx45logosmall.jpgAre you interested in developing skills in observational astronomy? Head out to Columbus for the HAS Texas 45! Observers who successfully complete this observing program will be presented both a pin and a certificate of completion at the HAS general membership meeting. Program details: https://www.astronomyhouston.org/programs/has-texas-45

The following members have completed the HAS Texas 45 observing program. Congratulations!

  • Steve Fast, gold level award, all star hopping, certificate #1
  • Rob Torrey, silver level award, all 65, certificate #2
  • Rene Gedaly, gold level award, all star hopping, certificate #3
  • Chris Thiede, gold level award, all star hopping, certificate #4
  • Amelia Goldberg, silver level award, star hop 45, certificate #5
  • Craig Lamison, gold level, all star hopping, certificate #6
  • Clayton Jeter, gold level award, all star hopping, certificate #7
  • Brian Cudnik, silver level award, all 65, certificate #8
  • Steve Goldberg, silver level award, star hop 45, certificate #9

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