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 Trini Mendenhall Community Center. 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.

COVID-19 update from the Houston Astronomical Society

Dear friends,

As we monitor the latest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership of the Houston Astronomical Society has been meeting regularly to identify the impact this has on our club and any activities we currently have scheduled.

First and foremost, the health and safety of our members is of paramount importance to us, and the decisions we've made have been done so with this in mind.  Therefore, beginning today, Friday, March 13, 2020, we will be placing a moratorium on all club activities that require in-person attendance.  This includes, but is not limited to, regular and novice meetings being held at the Trini Mendenhall Center, group observing classes and events, astronomy and telescope training of any kind, and all public outreach events - basically any activities in which a physical gathering of people in close proximity is required.  This moratorium will be in place until April 15, at which time, we will reassess the situation and make a decision on either lifting or extending the moratorium. ...

Letter from the President - March 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2020.

It’s Messier Marathon Time!

Just a few weeks ago, several members of the H.A.S. leadership group met to conduct our annual planning meeting for 2020.  We spent every bit of allotted time we had – before gently being reminded that the Mendenhall Center was going to be closing – coming up with ideas and programs to provide more for our members to do this year.  If you’ve taken a look at our club calendar at all lately, you’ll see a whole slew of events – from outreach star parties, Novice Labs at the dark site, and Loaner Scope training to help members familiarize themselves with the telescopes they borrow from our inventory.

M51, Image credit: ESA/HubbleOne of those upcoming events is the Messier Marathon. which we’re going to host at the H.A.S. dark site near Columbus on Saturday, March 21. 

What is a Messier Marathon, you ask?  Well, to answer that question, you first need to know who Messier was. In brief, Charles Messier was a French astronomer and comet hunter who lived in the 18th and early 19th century.  He scoured the night sky for comets, which often appeared as faint, fuzzy objects in the heavens above.  Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for the rest of us), comets aren’t the only faint, fuzzy objects that one could expect to see using the telescopes of Messier’s day.  The sky was littered with these objects – nebulae, globular clusters, open clusters, galaxies, and a supernova remnant – and, in an attempt to avoid these objects in his hunt for comets, he and others cataloged more than a hundred “faint fuzzies” so that he wouldn’t mistake them for his desired targets in subsequent searches. Others came along after Messier and completed his list, which now stands at 110 of the finest and brightest deep sky objects we can see with our telescopes.   … 

Observatory Corner - March 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2020.

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I'm a reader, not a writer. At least, I think that's how the saying should go. When I was asked to write a "short" Observatory Corner piece, I had my trepidation. I prefer to leave the wordsmithery and coining to the experts; i.e., not me. How does one start when writing these things? How do I start? With a deficit of creative juices in the written word arena, this will have to do:

The past:
2019 turned out to be a fairly busy year if you look at the amount of maintenance that went on out at the Dark Site. For the major jobs, we replaced the well pump that failed and added an iron breaker to improve the quality of the water. The air conditioner and dehumidifiers in the main observatory were replaced with more energy efficient units and a couple of the large breaker boxes were replaced. The main roof motor was replaced along with the gear reducer and a few electronic components.

The present:
We continue to work on the roof electronics of the observatory and are getting closer to a fix. It's been a particularly complex problem with dozens of different logical steps and components involved.
Mowing season will be upon us soon and with that comes tree trimming and all the other things that spring brings. We’re just about to bring an extension of the WiFi online and will provide better coverage on the east side of the observatory and the picnic area. Observatory training will resume once the roof operations are complete and training for the RC/MX will start shortly after. I know, I know...finally.  ...

Time to Renew Your Membership for 2020

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Time to RENEW YOUR HAS MEMBERSHIP so you can take your 2020 Dark Site Training January 1st and get the new gate code before it changes on March 7th! HAS memberships run from 1 January to December 31. Fortunately, renewing your membership is fast and easy!

Membership dues are a bargain. Dues amounts:

  • Regular - $36/year
  • Associate - $6 (lives at same address as regular member)
  • Student - $12 (full-time student)
  • Sustaining - $50 or more (if you want to give a little extra to keep the club strong)

As always there are three ways to renew:

  1. Renew online with PayPal - Login to your account at https://www.astronomyhouston.org/members/renew
    We greatly appreciate if you pay by PayPal because it automates the process. With 500 members, it saves us a lot of work.
  2. Renew at a monthly meeting and pay by check or cash.
  3. Mail a check the old-fashioned way to Treasurer, Houston Astronomical Society, PO Box 6657, Katy, TX 77491.

We hope that you will continue to support HAS and look forward to seeing you at our next meeting or event at the Columbus dark sky site! — Mike Edstrom

Changed your email address? Moved?

 H.A.S. uses the e-mail account and address you used when you joined the club to send you info about upcoming events, send you dues reminders, and to mail  your Astronomical League Reflector magazine. If any of those have changed, you’ll want to update your member profile. Here’s how:

  • If you’ve forgotten the username or email address you used to log in, send an e-mail to [email protected] and I’ll set you up.
  • If you know your username or e-mail but have forgotten your password, request a new one by clicking the Forgot Password link. newPassword.JPG

 

 

 

  • Once you can log into the website, click the blue Edit Profile button as shown below. The Username and Password form opens. Scroll until you see the E-mail address field and type your new e-mail address. Then click Save at the bottom of the page. 

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  • If you’ve moved, please contact [email protected] to update your mailing address to receive the printed Reflector magazine.

Field of View - March 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2020.

Notes from the Editor

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Don Selle

Welcome to the March 2020 issue of the Guidestar, the award-winning monthly newsletter of the Houston Astronomical Society.  If you take the opportunity to check out the Guidestar issues that are archived on our website, you will see that there is almost 20 years’ worth of back issues available to download. That is only part of the story, since the Guidestar has been in publication almost as long as HAS has existed. It has been, and I hope it will continue to be the primary means by which we communicate, enlighten and nurture a community of amateur astronomers in the greater Houston area. ...

Betelgeuse and the Crab Nebula: Stellar Death and Rebirth

NSN.pngThis article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Betelgeuse and the Crab Nebula: Stellar Death and Rebirth

BetelgeuseM1.PNGDavid Prosper

What happens when a star dies? Stargazers are paying close attention to the red giant star Betelgeuse since it recently dimmed in brightness, causing speculation that it may soon end in a brilliant supernova. While it likely won’t explode quite yet, we can preview its fate by observing the nearby Crab Nebula.

Betelgeuse, despite its recent dimming, is still easy to find as the red-hued shoulder star of Orion. A known variable star, Betelgeuse usually competes for the position of the brightest star in Orion with brilliant blue-white Rigel, but recently its brightness has faded to below that of nearby Aldebaran, in Taurus. Betelgeuse is a young star, estimated to be a few million years old, but due to its giant size it leads a fast and furious life. This massive star, known as a supergiant, exhausted the hydrogen fuel in its core and began to fuse helium instead, which caused the outer layers of the star to cool and swell dramatically in size. Betelgeuse is one of the only stars for which we have any kind of detailed surface observations due to its huge size – somewhere between the diameter of the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - and relatively close distance of about 642 light-years. Betelgeuse is also a “runaway star,” with its remarkable speed possibly triggered by merging with a smaller companion star. If that is the case, Betelgeuse may actually have millions of years left! So, Betelgeuse may not explode soon after all; or it might explode tomorrow! We have much more to learn about this intriguing star.

The Crab Nebula (M1) is relatively close to Betelgeuse in the sky, in the nearby constellation of Taurus. Its ghostly, spidery gas clouds result from a massive explosion; a supernova observed by astronomers in 1054! A backyard telescope allows you to see some details, but only advanced telescopes reveal the rapidly spinning neutron star found in its center: the last stellar remnant from that cataclysmic event. These gas clouds …

Messier of the Month - March 2020

by Jim King

This is the first installment of a series of columns revolving around observing the Messier Catalogue.  The intent is to provide the reader a small sampling of the Messier objects that are most visible in the time frame the column is published.  Hence, these objects should be easily identifiable in and around the month of February and early March. The objects covered in this column are M1, M103, and M42.

M1.PNGM1: The Crab Nebula.  The Crab was formed in July 1054, when its progenitor star blasted away most of its mass in a supernova explosion.  The event was recorded in several locations around the globe, but there are no known European references to the explosion.  It is still expanding at a rate of over 600 miles per second…almost 50 million miles per day!  Although created by an event similar, but more violent than that which creates a typical planetary nebula, the Crab does not have a typical planetary nebula’s form.  It is classed instead, as a supernova remnant.  The Crab’s pulsar rotates at 30 times per second.  First identified by John Bevis in 1731.

Object: Messier 001, aka NGC 1952, aka The Crab Nebula
Type: Supernova Remnant             
Con: Taurus
RA: 5.34.5   Dec: +22.01   Mag: 8.4  Dist: 6,500 ly
Opt view: (February) 08.00pm. Desc: Very bright, very large, extends roughly along position angle 135 degrees; very gradually, a little brighter in the middle, mottled.

M103: One of the less notable open clusters in Messier’s Catalogue, it was originally identified   … 

Gate code changes Mar 7. Take orientation soon

Need to complete yearly Dark Site orientation? Here's how:

  1. Log in to the website. If you have a problem logging in and it’s within the yearly grace period for renewal, email [email protected]
  2. Pay this year’s dues if you haven’t yet. You can use the PayPal button on each web page or mail a check to Houston Astronomical Society, PO Box 6657, Katy, TX 77491
  3. Navigate to Observatory page. Click tabs About the Society => Observatory
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  4. Scroll down Observatory page and click the START YOUR TRAINING button.
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See you at the H.A.S. Dark Site! 
posted by rene-gedaly 2/29/2020

Get your observing on!

by Stephen Jones
In my personal opinion, the greatest benefit of membership in HAS is the access to our Dark Site.  One thing I see so often on astronomy forums is people like us who live in urban areas talking about the things they have to deal with when trying to do astronomy from dark locations.

StephenJones.jpgThings like needing portable power packs, to dealing with critters, local law enforcement, or even yokels with guns.  On top of this, many of these people, especially in the Northeast, have to drive for 3+ hours just to get to a site decently dark enough for deep-sky astronomy.  How fortunate we are that we don’t have to deal with any of these things.  

The HAS Dark Site is an hour or less from parts of the West side of the metro area and no more than 2 hours from the furthest reaches of the East side.  It has all of the amenities you need for observing: solid ground to set your scope on, electricity, restrooms, bunkhouses to sleep in, a legal right for you to be there, and no one waving a gun in your face (critters can be a wild card, but they tend to stay away too).  There’s even telescopes you can borrow out there.  There are also all kinds of great events going on at the Dark Site throughout the year, like the Messier Marathon, Annual Picnic, and other great events put on by Jim King, our Field Trip and Observing Chair, as well as my Novice Lab program.

But there’s also no need to wait for an event to get out there!  Remember, your membership gets you 24-7 access to the dark site (with completion of the orientation, of course).  If the conditions are good there’s bound to be someone out there.  If you’re still worried about being there by yourself, connect with other members! Several folks, including myself, will frequently post to the email server or to the Facebook group when we are heading out there.  Feel free to send a post out there yourself if you’re thinking of going.  ... 

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