Rene Gedaly: A Guidestar Interview

Original article appears in GuideStar February, 2013.

Interview by Clayton Jeter

Clayton JeterIt seems our society is getting more and more exciting each year. Through the years we are gaining more new members with fantastic ideas…great ideas to improve our club. It’s a wonderful time to be a member in our society. A perfect example is our very own Rene Gedaly. This girl is a godsend for our society with all of her energy, time, devotion to the society, and forward thinking. She’s a special person.

Towards the end of last year, I mentioned to Rene an idea that I had of providing our club with its own observing program for use at our observing site near Columbus. She took the ball and ran with it. She did all the work…including creating the list, presenting it to our board for approval, ordering pins and certificates, and then announcing it to our society. She’s a work horse!

Ok… if you don’t know her yet, you will now. Here’s Rene…

The Rene Gedaly bio…

My first memory of things astronomical is an early childhood dream. I'm traveling at high speed through the solar system, passing galaxies left and right, and though this would have occurred before our family had color TV, the objects are in vivid color.

That dream would stay with me for years but my first real encounter with the heavens was in the Brownies. We were all so excited to be on a “midnight” hike trudging up and down the Maryland countryside. It was a moonless night but curiously we still had sufficient glow to find our way. I looked up and immediately saw why: the Milky Way as I'd never seen it before. I was hooked. A teacher pointed me to a book on astronomy in the school library, Find the Constellations, by H.A. Rey. That very night I climbed out my bedroom window onto the roof, book and flashlight in hand, to better see the sky. Later I would learn to paint the flashlight red with nail polish. Still later, I learned about telescopes and that one could be built from kit. My uncle built me a grinding room, but when it came time to measure the curvature of the ground mirror blank, I didn't yet have the math to continue. Around that time I also learned that a comet was coming. I would be 30 years old when it arrived so I had to solve my math shortcomings in time to become an astrophysicist and be ready.

Life happens, and though I never became an astrophysicist, I did have a brush with NASA, worked as a geophysicist before companies started hyphenating their names, and freelanced in software and IT for a couple of Houston's home-grown computer hardware and software firms. And in 1986 I saw Comet Halley. Some say it was a disappointing show but I thought it was magnificent. Just like that childhood dream.

The Rene Gedaly interview…

Clayton: I’m so glad Rene to have you as a member in our society. You really pull your share of chores within our group. Thanks a million.

I liked your comment above about waiting to observe Comet Halley. Have you seen other comets? Got a favorite?

Rene: Sure, the comet I’ve yet to see. Actually, my husband and I made a point of spotting Hale-Bopp, and Hyakutake before it. The whole world saw the amazing footage of Shoemaker-Levy 9, and like everyone else, I’m excited about the possibilities for Comet ISON. But in a sense, sighting Halley’s Comet was the end of an era for me. I didn’t get seriously involved in visual astronomy again until I rejoined HAS.

Rene Gedaly
 

Clayton: You really seem to be excited about the new HAS Texas 45 observing program. Where does all this passion come from?

Rene: Evidently, just like with Halley’s, I’ve been preparing all this time to get started again. Amateur astronomy takes planning, patience, and perseverance in addition to knowledge. So when Bob Rogers forwarded me your email in which you outlined a home-grown observing program, believe me, I recognized the opportunity and jumped at it.

Clayton: I really like this program concept and your chosen objects for this program. I mentioned to you on the phone last year that other HAS observing programs could also follow in years to come. Do you have any ideas on future lists?

Rene: You and I spent quite a bit of time hashing out this program, Clayton. Looking over my notes, the concept took the better part of two weeks—24x7 worth of texts, emails, and phone conversations. After a while, I do believe we were finishing each other’s sentences. But it’s a truism that if sufficient time is spent upfront fleshing out an idea, the work flows smoothl and quickly. That was certainly the case for me and the Texas 45. Zeroing in on the objects was a piece of cake. Of course, cross-referencing the objects against a variety of published resources was another thing entirely!

When you first mentioned additional lists, I was reminded of an idea you had a couple of years ago, a grand one: Holding a star party at the HAS dark site over a long weekend. After all, there are pockets of the year that are not covered by the bigger, week-long star parties, and HAS could fill these nicely. I could talk about the possibilities all day; you could, too. But suffice it to say that I see future lists dovetailing with something like that. On the other hand, one could develop an intermediate to expert visual list, an imaging list, a summer show down, and on and on. Any takers?

Clayton: The observing pins you ordered are beautiful. Will the observer who completes this list receive a certificate also? And…will they be numbered?

Rene: Okay, you got me. I haven’t designed the certificate yet, but yes, I suppose they will be numbered. Any reticence on my part is because I probably won’t be in the top ten of my own list! A big thanks, by the way, for suggesting allaboutpins.com and to you and your wife for help in brainstorming what we wanted to communicate visually in the design. I hope everyone will be proud to wear these award pins on their lapels at HAS meetings and other astro gatherings.

Clayton: I like the idea of a guest of a current HAS member being able to work on his/her list too. What are rules on this?

Texas 45
 

Rene: Any member can bring guests with them to the HAS site so working on the Texas 45 would pose no problem, just follow observatory committee policy. It’s the award pins that are the stickler; they do have to be ordered in batches of 100 and we want to make sure we have sufficient pins to cover our membership. We may need to see how the Texas 45 takes off first. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging friends to join HAS.

Clayton: Are you getting any feedback from folks who are using this new observing program?

Rene: The website forums are abuzz, the email list server has been chatty, and members are downloading the lists and observation logs. Our novice program chair, Debbie Moran, has been getting questions from members about the Texas 45, specific questions about eyepieces to use, for example. And Steve Fast, our field trips and observing chair, has been a great promoter as well as participant. I’m looking forward to attending Debbie’s lectures myself, and am so pleased, okay, jealous, that Steve gets out to the site so often and reports how his Texas 45 is going. He has big plans for star parties at the site, both formal and informal, so we’ll have ample opportunity to put tips and techniques to good use.

Like any observing program, the Texas 45 takes a little prep and planning. But if you can build in flexibility, that’s where real progress can take off. Now, the great thing about the Texas 45 is you can start any time and finish any time, just keep your records handy. But if members can build flexibility into their observing schedules, they can take advantage of those nights when we do have clear skies. Flexibility can be as simple as changing your mindset. Spend a few hours, even on weeknights, to get in some observing. But if that’s not possible, know that the Texas 45 is quite forgiving of moonlight, so prime nights are not required to have a good observing session. Heck, select lunar targets for your five “your choice” objects and you’ve got it made.

Clayton: When I told you about my idea of creating this program, did I come on too strong? I didn’t want you to be overwhelmed.

Rene: Strong? Overwhelming? Sure. But the idea was absolutely irresistible. That we could develop an accessible observing program to take advantage of our dark sky observing site, our southern view, with the same latitude as TSP, and brand it with the HAS name… This was a project that had to see the light of day. I had the time to devote and sufficient arm-chair knowledge, so I had no qualms about giving it a try.

Clayton: How would you like to see your own astronomy grow? What’s ahead for you?

Rene: Besides completing the Texas 45? I do see this as a jumping off point for me. Steve Goldberg, one of the list reviewers and my SkyTools tester, made a cross-reference of the objects on the Texas 45 against the objects on the Astronomical League clubs. He found 15! clubs represented. My suggestion is to try the program and see what you like; then go after the corresponding astronomical league club. That’s what I’m doing. That, and traveling to every star party in Texas I can get to.

Clayton: I’d like to know a little about your astronomy equipment…including star atlas’s and/or astronomy software.

Rene: I have a Meade LightSwitch LS-8, a nicely retooled Celestron C8 with a Byers worm drive that I got from you, and a 10” Zhumell Dobsonian. Now I’m itching for a good 4” refractor. As for software, I’m a SkyTools junkie and get myself into so much trouble messing with options that I’ve had to install it on two machines, one as a sandbox. My favorite star atlas is the Uranometria, and I have both volumes. Seems like using a sledge hammer for the objects I look at but I get confused when I don’t see a star on a chart that I do see in my scope. So I usually hop from the Pocket Sky Atlas to SkyTools to the Uranometria and back again. Knowing what resources I used to select the Texas 45 list objects is probably of interest also. I’ll post those to the forums.

Clayton: It seems in recent years that the younger people are not that interested in amateur astronomy, or any of the sciences. How can we turn this around?

Rene: Meet them where they live, online. HAS is doing a great job of this with its web presence. In fact, let me do a search right now on “astronomy houston tx.” Hmm, the first hit is “The Houston Astronomical Society,” and the summary says “…pack up the scope and head out to Columbus for the HAS Texas 45!” Wow. I see our webmaster, Jeffery McLaughlin, has been busy. Now he’s definitely one of our talented and forward thinking members. At a more fundamental level, science is, in fact, hard, so it’s important not to extinguish fledgling interest by setting the bar too high.

Clayton: Do you have any helpful advice to pass on to observers just starting out in astronomy? Any last comment on the HAS Texas 45 that you’d like to share?

Rene: Don’t give up, help is there. Get to the novice meetings and star parties; check out the website forums, too. If you don’t find the help you need, look up the society contacts in the GuideStar and call. This can be a tough but rewarding hobby for the beginning observer. With a little persistence, you’ll find others who are happy to help. And don’t forget binoculars for immediate satisfaction; 10x50s are a nice size that will open up the skies to you, and those skies do not have to be pristine. I only wish I’d followed my own advice when I first joined, albeit briefly, in 1982.

As a last comment on the HAS Texas 45, we owe a big thanks to Brian Cudnik. Brian does a lot of research at the HAS Observatory, and combined with his teaching schedule, he doesn’t have a lot of extra time. Nevertheless, he vetted all 60 objects on the list, made the suggestion for optional drawings and silver and gold completion levels, and of particular interest to new observers, enthused that the list had a nice variety of objects and most objects would be easy to find.

Clayton: Is there an email address that you have that another Houston Astronomical Society member could contact you for an additional question or two?

Rene: The best way to contact me is via our website forums. Log into astronomyhouston.org, hop over to the Forums tab, and send a personal message to rene-gedaly. Better yet, post a comment on any of the forums letting us know how you’re doing on your own astro quest; I’ll see it and answer. Or go old school and use (See the PDF newsletter)

Clayton: Thanks Rene for taking the time to share your interest and thoughts within our HAS newsletter, the GuideStar. We wish you luck with all of your astronomy interests including the “HAS Texas 45” observing program. Thanks for all the work you do within our society.

Rene: Right back atcha, Clayton. And before we sign off, let’s tell everyone where to find the HAS Texas 45. Go to our website, www.astronomyhouston.org, and hop to the Programs tab. Or go directly there at http://astronomyhouston.org/programs/has-texas-45.

Clayton: Clear skies always Rene,

Clayton L. Jeter is an avid SCT visual observer and a longtime member of the Houston Astronomical Society. Contact him at: (See the PDF newsletter)

HAS Online Store

Get Connected!

HAS has begun using RainedOut, a text message service, to communicate late-breaking news about events. Click here to learn more and subscribe!

Night Sky Network