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 Trini Mendenhall Community Center. 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.

Observatory Corner - April 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.
ADHD / TL;DR* VERSION:

* Too Long;Didn’t Read  

  1. Dark site open. Buildings closed
  2. Roof. Still broke but solution in progress. Thank you Kay!
  3. WiFi. Mo’ betta
  4. Road Lights. Out with the old, in with the new
  5. Dead tree. Down!
  6. ORVFD. Fundraiser for new fire station
  7. Volunteers. Yes, please
Bored With Being Stuck Inside and Nothing Else to Do Version

At lot has been happening at the Dark Site this past month. Unfortunately, not much dark sky observing because of the weather. That has not stopped people from asking if the dark site is still open or kept people from trying to take advantage of extra time off and breaks in the weather.

I’m sure everyone has received their fair share of email from every vendor and company they’ve ever dealt with explaining that they are still open and how much they care about the safety of their employees and customers. I won’t force another on you but Yes, the dark site is still open. The shared buildings and equipment are unavailable until further notice but there are plenty of observing pads with greater than 6ft between each.

Here’s the skinny on what’s been going on this past month

The roof issue is still being worked on. You have to remember that this was built in the early ‘80s, so it now time to decode what was built then to convert it to more modern technology. Electronic wiz, Kay McCallum is working this. When the issue is resolved I’ll let everyone know so we can start scheduling the telescopes again and have some more training classes once this virus stuff slows down and allows us to function normally.

New lights_1.jpgAn ongoing project is to replace all the red road lights. All of the previous lights have been removed, taking out as much as we can of the wiring and conduits. We are putting in 4”x4” post, about 2 feet in the ground with concrete, and topping the post with solar powered red LEDs. To date, 7 LEDs have been installed with 16 more to come.

In the camping area, one of the dead trees has been taken down. This was a safety issue.

The Wi-Fi has been expanded to provide better coverage to the picnic and camping areas.

btn_donateCC_LG.gif The Oakridge Volunteer Fire Department (OVFD) is raising funds for a new fire station. They are our neighbors and first responders for emergencies at the Dark Site. HAS will be contributing $500 for this worthy cause and I invite others to contribute if you have the means. You can donate via the PayPal link on the right or by sending a check to Oakridge Volunteer Fire Department, 1904-A Oakridge Road, Weimar, TX 78962.

I would like to thank all the recent Observatory Committee volunteers: Kay & Paul McCallum, Walt Cooney, Mike Edstrom, Don Selle, Don Taylor, Rob Torrey and Steve Goldberg for their tireless and continued work with projects and maintenance out at the dark site.

The mowing and growing season is upon us. The grass and trees remain unscathed by COVID-19. We’re always in need of volunteers to help with building and tool maintenance or grass and tree cutting, and trimming. If you would like to help, please drop me a line at [email protected].

See you out at the dark site!
Chris Ober
HAS Observatory Director

Armchair Astronomy - April 2020

Visual Challenge Object - April 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

April 2020 – Challenge Object

NGC-3893/3896

Ed Fraini

The purpose of the visual challenge object is to encourage visual observation and to help each other improve our observational skills.    It will help us reach this goal by comparing our observations, so please share your observations with the VSIG.

Astrophotograpy - A Beginner's Story

Field of View - April 2020

Letter from the President - April 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

moon-4671091_960_720.jpgWe've all heard it by now - the impact to our daily lives in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and historic in our lifetimes. The recent outbreak has altered life for much of the world, and as I type this letter, I am self-quarantining at home while recovering from a suspected case of COVID-19. Thankfully, I'm doing well and am on the road to recovery, and my symptoms are much more mild than what others are dealing with.

While this pandemic has brought unique challenges to the way we do even the most mundane tasks in our lives, we live in a unique period in time where we can be connected practically anyone we wish, even while practicing social distancing.  Technology allows us to conduct meetings, host video chats, and even collaborate on all sorts of things, without ever having to leave the comfort of our own homes.  Many of us are working from home and doing practically everything we could from the office, and, in many cases, are even more productive than when in the workplace.  But all of this is so that we can try to flatten the curve of infection, and the Houston Astronomical Society is doing its part to help out by canceling our in-person gatherings until further notice...

Harry Potter and the Orbit of Venus

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

In the book “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, it is stated that as part of his “Astronomy O.W.L.” (some sort of year-end wizarding final exam that is required to get an academic credential) he observed the planet Venus. The book states that the exam started at 11PM.  Of course in the real world, Venus does not stray far from the sun, and so cannot be seen much outside twilight, certainly not that late. Right? It’s a work of fiction and we should not expect there to be any correspondence with the real world, after all! There was even a letter to the editor complaining about this impossible scene published in Sky and Telescope that I remember reading. But then what is that bright object low in the West late at night this month? Just how late can Venus set?

You might think that each apparition of Venus in the morning or evening skies is unique, and searching for the latest Venus-set would require an exhaustive computer search. You’d be wrong. Over the span of decades of a human lifetime there are only 5 evening apparitions of Venus, and they repeat every 8 years like clockwork. This is a consequence of the orbital period of Venus, 224.70 days, and of Earth, 365.26 days. As you can easily verify with a calculator, 8 orbits of Earth is only about a day longer than 13 orbits of Venus. Thus every 8 Earth years Venus laps Earth 5 times, and the positions of the two planets nearly precisely repeat. If you have a good astronomy app on your phone or tablet (I use “Sky Safari”, but there are several to choose from), try looking up the position of Venus on April 3 at 9PM. You’ll find it passing through the conspicuous naked-eye star cluster called the Pleiades.  (Many members of the public are sure the Pleiades is the little dipper, but it’s not. To avoid confusion, I propose calling it the “micro dipper”!) Then try setting the time to 8 years into the future --- there it is again!

Figure: The position of Venus in the 
Pleaides star cluster at 9PM on 
April 3 in 2020, 2028, and 2036, showing
how the position of Venus in the sky 
(nearly) repeats every 8 years. This 
(public domain) photo of the Pleaides (the 
“micro dipper”) is from a 1912 popular 
astronomy book.

Asterism of the Month - April 2020-Napolean's Hat

Hubble at 30: Three Decades of Discovery

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

NSN.pngThis article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Hubble at 30: Three Decades of Cosmic Discovery

David Prosper

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrates its 30th birthday in orbit around Earth this month! It’s hard to believe how much this telescope has changed the face of astronomy in just three decades. It had a rough start -- an 8-foot mirror just slightly out of focus in the most famous case of spherical aberration of all time. But subsequent repairs and upgrades by space shuttle astronauts made Hubble a symbol of the ingenuity of human spaceflight and one of the most important scientific instruments ever created. Beginning as a twinkle in the eye of the late Nancy Grace Roman, the Hubble Space Telescope’s work over the past thirty years changed the way we view the universe, and more is yet to come!

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