Dark Site Observatory
Society members enjoy dark skies at our observatory located eighty miles west of downtown Houston. In this aerial view, you can see how our dark site earned its nickname Padhenge*. The observing field offers 38 concrete pads arranged in a circular pattern to best make use of the horizon. Electricity for powering telescope tracking devices is available within 50 feet of each pad. WiFi is available for remote telescope control or for other computer applications that require the Internet. Several star parties are held at the site each year, in addition to the Annual Picnic. Stephen Jones, field trip and observing committee chair, organizes these events.
Camping and Facilities
The site features a Male bunkhouse that's available for overnight stays. The bunkhouse is an air conditioned and heated building that sleeps four. Another bunkhouse has 2 rooms, designated for women and families is available. It, too, is air conditioned and heated. It has 2 beds and 2 cots in each room. A permanent restroom building with hot water and showers is a short walk away from the observation field. Spaces are available for both tent camping and RVs.
* For a recounting of the Founder's Day event held at the Observatory in 2014, see the History section of this website.
Observatory Building with Sliding Roof
The observatory building, with a sliding roof, is home to three telescopes. The south wall folds down as well, to gain full access to the southern horizon. A few members have viewed one star of the Southern Cross from this site. The 16 x 33 main room is cinder block construction with a thick steel roof weighing an estimated 3 tons. A chart room, with its desk, reference charts, and two comfortable cots keeps its roof on for use on those cold nights.
Three telescopes permanently mounted inside the observatory building are available to members upon completion of a training session. Rightmost is the 12.5" f/5 built in the late ‘70s. It is used primarily for visual observing and has tracking but no GoTo. Several of the astronomical league observing programs prohibit the use of digital setting circles or GoTo so this is the scope to use. It was originally designed to be transportable and then later modified to be permanently mounted in the observatory. It is a low profile scope in that the vertically challenged need only a step stool to get to the eyepiece when the scope is at the zenith.
The telescope on the left is a recently acquired Paramount MX mount upon which an Astro-Tech Ritchey–Chrétien 12" OTA has been mounted. This telescope is a GoTo “robotic mount” which must be controlled either by computer control or the electronic hand paddle. It will now be used for astrophotography only once an orientation session has be taken.
The telescope in the center is a Celestron-C14 mounted on an Astro-Physics AP-900 mount that is used extensively for visual observing. The telescope is being run by The SkyX Pro for GoTo capability or the hand paddle for star hopping.
Dark Site and Observatory Access
The HAS Dark Site is available to all members in good standing who have:
1. Paid their current year’s dues.
2. Completed the online site orientation training.
The HAS Observatory is available to members who have completed an additional training course on usage of the building. To be eligible to attend an Observatory Training Course, members must be at least 16 years of age, be up-to-date with the Dark Site orientation and be a member in good standing for a minimum of six months. Those interested in attending this training who are under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who is also a member. Underage members whose parents are not members may attend the training, but will not be eligible to use the observatory unless supervised by a trained adult user.
Prior to observatory training, it is strongly recommended that users have a working understanding of equatorially mounted astronomical telescopes. It is also recommended, though not required, that users be familiar with using TheSkyX.
The training classes are typically held several times each year, usually on or near a full-moon weekend, and are conducted by John Haynes, Ed Fraini, and Rene Gedaly. The class typically begins in the afternoon and runs well into the evening so that trainees can demonstrate their understanding under nighttime conditions.
Training to use the 12” RCOS telescope for imaging requires a separate training orientation which is open to those who have successfully completed the Observatory training.
All trainings are at the discretion of the Observatory Director.
Contact Observatory Director Chris Ober for more information.
To book observatory telescopes, bunkhouse beds, and/or weekend trailer slot, contact Steve Goldberg at HASbooking@astronomyhouston.org.
Emergency Observatory phone numbers: Chris Ober 210-410-9161, Steve Goldberg 713-385-4072 or Mike Edstrom 832-689-4584.