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 via Zoom the first Friday of each month for the General Membership Meeting and the first Thursday of the month for the Novice Meeting. 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.

Starting with a Camera Tracker

by Don Selle


On occasion, I have talked or traded emails with a new HAS member who was interested in learning astrophotography but was hesitant to get started. The one reason most often given for the hesitation has been that the cost of the equipment is prohibitive. This is followed closely by “if I get into it, I know I will go all-in”.

While I can’t help much with the second reason (after all -- there’s always an upgrade!) there are some ways to get into astrophotography without totally breaking the bank. One of them is to start by using one of the more advanced camera trackers which are currently on the market. 

If you are already into photography, especially landscape and wildlife, adding a camera tracker can open the door to both nightscape and wide field astrophotography. If you already have a camera, sturdy tripod, and a good wide field lens (for nightscapes) and a good telephoto lens (for wide field astrophotography), a camera tracker is the next logical step. You can find used units in the $2-$300 while a new one with most of the bells and whistles will set you back a bit over $500, with a little bit of practice, your results can look really high end. 

OSIRIS-REx Has a Blast with Bennu

By Will Sager

Asteroid 101955 Bennu (NASA photo)

In late 2020, the NASA OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith EXplorer) spacecraft tagged asteroid 101955 Bennu hoping to collect a sample to be returned to Earth for study. Scientists hope that these samples, which are thought to be primordial fragments from the early solar system, will provide clues into about planetary formation. Although Bennu threatened to eat the intrepid spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx had a blast. 


Asteroid sampling has been attempted twice before by Japan’s JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), in 2005 from asteroid 25143 Itokawa by the Hyabusa 1 spacecraft and in 2019 from asteroid 162173 Ryugu by the Hyabusa 2 spacecraft. The first Hyabusa mission had technical difficulties that resulted in a malfunction of the sampling probe and recovery of < 1 milligram of material. Hybabusa 2 was more successful, but the recovered sample was still quite small at 5.4 grams ( about 0.2 oz). OSIRIS-REx was more ambitious, with a larger sampler called TAGSAM (Touch-and-go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), which was supposed to gather about 60 grams of material from the asteroid surface. To visualize TAGSAM, think of a large, high-tech toilet plunger about 30 cm (11.8 inches) across. The sampler, of course, is made of aluminum (not rubber). It has a ring of jets around the periphery that fire nitrogen gas to stir up small particles and force them into the sample chamber. The TAGSAM is attached to the spacecraft by a thin, articulated arm that allows the sampler to be unfolded and extended about 3.35 meters (11 feet). To collect a sample, the plan was to extend the TAGSAM and move the spacecraft slowly towards the surface of Bennu, make contact, and fire the nitrogen jets to stir up loose debris, which would be trapped inside TAGSAM by a cover flap. 

After launch in September 2016 and a trip by Earth for a gravity boost in 2017, OSIRIS-REx survived another year in transit, arriving at Bennu in December 2018. It spent nearly two years surveying the surface of the little 500 meter diameter asteroid to find a good spot for sampling. Details about the sample site and sampling are contained in an article in the 15 July 2022 issue of the journal, Science (Lauretta et al., 2022). Mission scientists found a small depression, which they named Nightingale, within a small crater named Hokioi, which has a diameter of about 20 meters (66 feet). At the Nightingale site, the surface was easy for the spacecraft to reach and dominated by grains of small size, which are ideal for the TAGSAM. In contrast, much of the rest of the Bennu surface is covered by boulders. Furthermore, photographic and spectral images suggested that the site contained a mixture of lithologies typical of the Bennu surface.



Artemis 1: A Trip Around the Moon and Back!

by David Prosper

We are returning to the Moon - and beyond! Later this summer, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission will launch the first uncrewed flight test of both the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft on a multi-week mission. Orion will journey thousands of miles beyond the Moon, briefly entering a retrograde lunar orbit before heading back to a splashdown on Earth.


Full Moon over Artemis-1 on July 14, 2022, as the integrated Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft await testing. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston Source: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/a-full-moon-over-artemis/

The massive rocket will launch from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The location’s technical capabilities, along with its storied history, mark it as a perfect spot to launch our return to the Moon. The complex’s first mission was Apollo 10 in 1968, which appropriately also served as a test for a heavy-lift launch vehicle (the Saturn V rocket) and lunar spacecraft: the Apollo Command and Service Modules joined with the Lunar Module. The Apollo 10 mission profile included testing the Lunar Module while in orbit around the Moon before returning to the Earth. In its “Block-1” configuration, Artemis 1’s SLS rocket will take off with 8.8 million pounds of maximum thrust, even greater than the 7.6 millions pounds of thrust generated by the legendary Saturn V, making it the most powerful rocket in the world!


NSNRound150.pngThis article is distributed by NASA’s Night Sky Network (NSN). The NSN program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Asterisms – Little Orion

By: Steve Goldberg  (Posted 8/6/2019)

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Cygnus
Right Ascension: 20h 56m 00.0s
Declination: + 43° 34' 00"
Magnitude: 6 to 9
Size: about 1 degree      
This asterism is composed of 7 stars that form a “little” constellation Orion. It is located near the star Deneb in Cygnus. Deneb is the “tail” of Cygnus the Swan.
This asterism is located next to the North American Nebula and near star 57 Cygnus.



In this view with a 10” scope and 32mm eyepiece, you can see the 3 “belt stars” with 2 bright stars on either side representing Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph.

The “Little Orion” is located on the edge of North American Nebula, NGC 7000, with “Betelgeuse” touching Florida. The “belt stars” point to the Gulf of Mexico. In really dark skies, the North American can be seen with the naked eye, and easily in binoculars. Make an attempt to see NGC 7000.

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