Letter from the President - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

Photo by Phillip Chee, licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Joe Khalaf – HAS President

Fall is officially upon us here in Space City.  As I write this article, the autumnal equinox just passed less than a week ago, and Houston is about to receive its first significant cold front, bringing our lows into the 50s.  Needless to say, this is a welcome respite from the summer heat here, but the changing of the seasons has always been a little bittersweet for me.

When I was younger, the transition from summer to fall meant the end of those long days at the neighborhood pool, endless hours running around outside and playing sports in the street, and generally speaking, doing all of those things that kids do.  Instead, I had to trade my shorts in for longer pants (my school district didn’t permit the wearing of shorts), trim my hair (yes, I once had hair, and the school district didn’t like for it to be anywhere near the collar), and start to get serious about my studies for the upcoming school year.

My friends in the summer were mostly neighborhood kids that I wouldn’t generally see in my classrooms, but we seemed to rekindle our bonds of friendship once the school year ended in late May.  Once the school year began, though, I couldn’t wait to see the other friends I hadn’t seen for months.  It was always interesting to see just how much we all changed over the course of one short summer and getting a chance to be with these friends certainly meant that we’d turned the page on one season and were moving into another.

And for me, this type of seasonal transition still happens to this day.  But instead of my childhood friends coming and going, these are different types of “friends” – those of the celestial variety.  You see, nothing signals the end of summer for me more than the setting of two of my “friends” in the early evening: Scorpius and Sagittarius.  These beacons of summer now sit low in the southwestern sky after sunset, and in just a few short weeks, will be gone altogether; lost behind the sun’s glare for some time.  These two constellations, in addition to being the hosts to a number of fantastic astronomical objects, symbolize the summer night sky more than anything else to me, and are an enduring backdrop to many mosquito-plagued observing sessions.  But seeing them slip into the horizon is always sad for me, and it’s the way I mark the end of summer.

But like the friends I’d get to reconnect with in fall, I, too, have some friends I enjoy seeing in the night sky once the weather starts to get cooler.  There’s Gemini the twins, Taurus the bull and the Seven Sisters riding along with him, and my favorite, Orion, the hunter.  Seeing these constellations hanging against the dark backdrop of space while there’s a slight nip in the air is a sure sign to me that the seasons have indeed changed.

So, before they’re gone for good, get outside and say goodbye one last time to our celestial summer friends.  It may be too late to make out any objects of note with a telescope, but these constellations will linger just long enough to say “see ya later,” the way my friends and I would on that last day at the pool.  But our winter friends will be here soon, and it’ll be great being able to say hello and spending time with them, too.

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