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.

May 04, 2017, 8:00PM: Middlelands Festival Star Party

This one’s going to be very interesting…There is going to be a multi-day music festival at the grounds of the Texas Renaissance Festival called The Middlelands Festival. The event goes from May 5-7, but they’d like for us to have a stargazing event for their campers on the night before the festival starts. This would be on Thursday, May 4, from about 8pm to midnight. We’d give sky tours and show some objects through the telescopes. I know it’s a “school night,” but If you can join us, it should be very fun.

  • Event: Middlelands Festival Star Party
  • Date: Thursday, May 4, 2017 (Star Wars Day…May the Fourth Be With You…)
  • Time: 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM 
  • Location: Texas Renaissance Festival Fair Grounds, 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission, TX 77363
  • Number of volunteers needed: 6-8

May 05, 2017, 7:00PM: Monthly Meeting 7:00PM at Mendenhall Community Center

Attention Members: Due to final exams, we will not be meeting at UH this May. Instead, We will meet at 7:00PM Friday May 5, 2017 at the Mendenhall Community Center. There will be no novice meeting this month.

General Meeting Topic: The Murray J Frank Planetarium
General Meeting Speaker:  Sharon Rigsby, Director of the Murray J Frank Planetarium
Location: Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd, Houston, TX 77055
Time and Date: 7:00PM Friday May 5, 2017

Directions to Mendenhall.

Mendenhall Center.JPG

 

Deep Sky Object of the Month - the Leo Trio

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Stephen Jones

Objects: M65, M66, and NGC3628 (aka the Leo Trio)
Constellation: Leo
Type: Spiral Galaxies
Magnitudes: M65 – 9.3, M66 – 8.9, NGC3628 – 9.5
Discoverers: M65 and M66 – Charles Messier, 1780; NGC 3628 – William Herschel, 1784
Equipment necessary:  A small telescope should show them from a dark site; larger scopes needed for finer detail

One of my favorite groups of galaxies visible in the spring sky is this fine trio of bright galaxies near the hind-quarters of the constellation Leo (that is, the eastern part of the constellation).  They are quite easy to find, about halfway in between Theta (θ) and Iota (ι) Leonis (see chart). 

With a small telescope and low power, you may be able to fit all three galaxies in the same field.  With larger scopes and higher powers, this may not be possible, but instead the fun is in the detail visible in the individual galaxies.

M65 is a lovely spiral galaxy, fairly evenly bright.  You can see a bright central nucleus fading gradually outward.  It is seen as oval in shape, because we are seeing the relatively flat spiral galaxy at an inclination of around 30 degrees from edge-on.  Of the three galaxies, M65 has the least obvious detail for visual observers, though some have reported seeing dust lanes in scopes over 16”. 

M66 is the brightest galaxy of the three, right next to a quite obvious y-shaped pattern of fairly bright stars.  It appears oval in shape, with a fairly bright nucleus in the center and fainter outer areas.  In larger scopes, you may be able to tell that the brightness distribution is a little uneven;  Photographs reveal that the reason for this is that one of the main spiral arms is brighter and extends a bit further than the other.  Astrophysicists theorize this is due to a past close encounter with NGC 3628. 

NGC 3628, though the faintest galaxy in the group, is perhaps the most interesting to look at.  It is almost perfectly edge-on to us, so we do not see a bright round nucleus or spiral arms here; instead, we see a big dust lane right down the middle.  Examining the galaxy with high power in a larger scope brings out the dust lane very clearly.  I recently spent a good bit of time on this galaxy with the C14 in the observatory.  I noted that compared to other edge-on galaxies, this one appears very noticeably asymmetrical, with the dust lane looking perhaps slightly warped.  This also shows evidence of the past encounter between this galaxy and M66. 

Asterisms – Star Gate, STF 1659

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Steve Goldberg

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Corvus
Right Ascension: 12 h 35 m 59 s
Declination: -12o 03’ 09”
Magnitude: 6.61 to 11.56              

The constellation Corvus is located in our southern skies and is easily seen from our Observatory Dark Site. Locate the 2 most northern stars of the Corvus “square”, Delta and Eta. Head towards M104.

This asterism is composed of 6 stars. 3 bright stars that form a triangle, and 3 dimmer stars that form a triangle inside the outer triangle. This asterism is located near Messier 104.

The distance to Star Gate is 72LY (light years). The designation STF is Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve’s catalog. Sometimes the designation ∑ Sigma is used for Struve objects.  The 82” telescope at McDonald Observatory in west Texas is named the “Otto Struve Telescope”. Otto Struve, the great-grandson of Friedrich, was the first Observatory Director of McDonald.

Here is a link to the Otto Struve telescope at McDonald Observatory: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/research/telescopes/Struve

President’s Letter

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Rene S Gedaly

SIGs are Back

That's Special Interest Groups or SIGs. We've had them before, in a galaxy far, far away. Now they're back and I'm especially excited about a new one being introduced by our Field Trip & Observing guy, Stephen Jones. Don’t miss his announcement elsewhere in this GuideStar.

HAS Youth

A perennial question of astronomy groups everywhere has been how to get youth involved in our hobby. My answer has always been to go where they live, and if you have something to offer, they'll come visit you. It's a working strategy for HAS. They live online, of course. And we offer plenty.

Karla Pale, our HAS intern, is giving her senior thesis presentation on “Indirect Methods of Detecting Dark Matter” April 25 at The School of the Woods. We were hoping to have Karla speak to us at UH but she’s leaving soon on her way to university. As her field advisor, I’ll be attending. Maybe I can do Facebook live.

Clay Parenti is a ninth grader at Westchester Academy for International Studies and has been active in astronomy, picking up youth awards along the way. You’ve seen or read about him in previous GuideStars. Clay spent a very special spring break this year. Check out how later in this issue.

Edgar Najera is a college student at Lone Star – University Park and is also president of his astronomy club there. He spent a couple of nights over spring break at the HAS Observatory, staying in the men's bunkhouse. Edgar learned observatory operations in the first revamped training class in March. You may recall seeing a photo of another LSC student at observatory training last month, Megan Galvan at the C14.

Sophie Schenkel has been at the dark site often over the past year for the Novice Observing and WSIG Telescope labs plus is a member of the 2017 Texas45 observing class along with mom Ingrid. They are so intent on graduating and earning their award certificates and pins, they’ve asked how they can cover observations of winter objects they’ve missed and summer objects they may not be able to get to. Yes, it is definitely possible to see list objects outside their given season. Winter list objects, for example, can be seen in the fall by observing in the hours before sunrise instead of in the evening.

Brand new member Lauren Herrington brought her mom to the second observatory training class. Mom had to come along because Lauren is just 15. They came early to help with bunkhouse work day, broke away to attend class in the observatory, and later that evening got to the Novice Observing Lab on the field. Stephen Jones was so impressed by this accomplished young astronomer that he put her and her 8” scope to work showing beginning observers the sky. If you've been to the dark site lately, or to a recent outreach event, or to a meeting at UH, you've seen Lauren and mom Lisa. They're the ones in tie-dye.

We have many student members in HAS; 55 in fact. If I haven't mentioned your name, trust me, I've seen many of you and know you’re active in outreach and such. Come say hi and get as involved as you like or as your schedule allows. Astronomy is a great hobby and we're glad you're a part of it. Who knows? You could grow up to be another HAS legacy, like Field Trip & Observing Chair Stephen Jones.

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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