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 bunkhouse that's available for overnight stays. The bunkhouse is an air conditioned and heated building that sleeps four. A new female and family bunkhouse is under construction. 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 scope 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 a Losmandy G-11 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.
Observatory and Site Access
The HAS Dark Site is available to all members in good standing who have:
1. Paid their current year’s dues.
2. Have been a member for a minimum of 2 months.
3. Completed the online site orientation training.
The HAS observatory building is available to individuals who have been a member at least six months, who are in good standing, and who have completed the observatory training course. The training course, run by John Haynes, runs from afternoon through evening and is held on a new-moon weekend, please contact John Haynes for more details. You'll need to bring a sack lunch and a notebook.
Contact observatory director Mike Edstrom for more information.
To book observatory telescopes, bunkhouse beds, and/or weekend trailer slot, contact Steve Goldberg at HASbooking@astronomyhouston.org.