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.

Letter from the President - March 2021

March is a Time for Renewal  

Although most people associate January as the month when we turn a new page on the new year, for me, March is really a time for renewal.  As we leave February and head into the third month, it marks the waning of our winter season and all of the worst that Jack Frost can throw at us.  Grass starts to green a bit, leaves start to grow on trees, and the first buds on seasonal plants start to make their appearance.  In years past, given enough rain during the winter, you might even begin spotting your first bluebonnets in our part of Texas in March, as well.

From an astronomical sense, March is when spring technically starts, with the vernal equinox landing on March 20.  As some of you may remember, this is the day when there is an equal amount of sunlight hitting the earth on both the northern and southern hemispheres.  From here on out, we more amounts of sunshine in the northern hemisphere, while our friends below the equator start to plunge into their fall season.

But in addition to the renewal that takes place with nature around us, here at the Houston Astronomical Society, it’s a time for renewal, as well.  It’s in March when we start to really implement some of the new programs changes the leadership has planned for during our January planning meeting, and it’s also a time when we set the new gate codes for our dark site location near Columbus, TX.  It’s important that if you haven’t renewed your membership for 2021 that you do so quickly so that there’s no disruption to your access to all of the great programs and amenities that your club has to offer.  Whether it the access to the observing site for some excellent, dark skies within a short driving distance from Houston, to the use of our vast library of loaner telescopes, and, my personal favorite, being part of a community of astronomy enthusiasts who share their growth in this hobby together, the Houston Astronomical Society values each and every one of our members.  When I became president, I said that our members are the most important asset our club has to offer, and I will never be persuaded otherwise.  So please renew your membership at https://astronomyhouston.org/members/renew if you haven’t done so yet, and for all of you who have done so, we look forward to this next trip around the sun with you in 2021.

Milestones

Recently, the Houston Astronomical Society welcomed its 800th member to the club.  As far as I know (and I’ve asked others who have been with the club for a long time) this is the largest number of members we’ve ever had.  For years, people lamented the “graying” of amateur astronomy, but if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that people of all ages are actively pursuing our hobby.  I’ve heard from our friends in other clubs here locally and around the United States, and they all say that they’re experiencing significant membership growth, as well, so we’re excited to see all of the new people entering this hobby! 

It’s important for us to make sure we’re hitting the mark on everything our members, new and not so new, need, so if you have questions, comments, or concerns, you can always email me ([email protected]) and I’ll make sure to answer those, and if I can’t put you with the right person who can!

Time to Renew Your Membership for 2021

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Time to RENEW YOUR HAS MEMBERSHIP so you can take your 2021 Dark Site Training January 1st and get the new gate code before it changes on March 6th! HAS memberships run from 1 January to December 31. Fortunately, renewing your membership is fast and easy!

Membership dues are a bargain. Dues amounts:

  • Regular - $36/year
  • Associate - $6 (lives at same address as regular member)
  • Student - $12 (full-time student)
  • Sustaining - $50 or more (if you want to give a little extra to keep the club strong)

Two ways to renew:

  1. Renew online with PayPal - Login to your account at https://www.astronomyhouston.org/members/renew
    We greatly appreciate if you pay by PayPal because it automates the process. With 750 members and counting, it saves us a lot of work.
  2. Mail a check the old-fashioned way to Treasurer, Houston Astronomical Society, PO Box 6657, Katy, TX 77491.

We hope that you will continue to support HAS and look forward to seeing you at our next meeting or event at the Columbus dark sky site! — Mike Edstrom

March 04, 2021, 7:00PM: HAS Novice Presentation - Via Zoom

How to Set Up Your Telescope

 

 

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Are you new to astronomy? Well this talk is for you!

One of the coolest things about amateur astronomy is that you get to observe the universe with your own eyes! You get to learn the night sky, constellations, bright stars, and how the sky changes through the night and with the seasons. 

But wait!

Before you get to go exploring, you need to know how to set up and align your telescope and learn how to point it precisely on the sky and then have it track as the earth rotates and the sky “moves”. Most of us do not have the background knowledge to set up and use a scope without some difficulty, and reading the instruction book can only add to your confusion!

To help you out, some of our experienced astronomers will demonstrate how to set up your telescope, align your finder and get your scope working like clockwork!

 

March 05, 2021, 7:00PM: HAS Monthly Meeting Presentation - Via Zoom

DIY Spectrography on a Budget

by: Lauren Herrington

AAVSO Ambassador and Webinar Coordinator

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Every star's spectrum carries a different pattern of spectral lines — information which can be decoded to study its temperature, surface pressure, and even the atoms it's made of. Using spectra, we don't have to take a long spaceflight to study the stars — in fact, we don't even need to leave our backyards!

While spectrography has been in use for hundreds of years, it's long been viewed as difficult and expensive, far out of the reach of amateurs. Nothing could be further from the truth! With recent advancements in technology, it's become possible for an amateur to record high-quality spectra using a dobsonian telescope — no tracking required! If you can take a photo of Jupiter, you can record stellar spectra.

During my presentation, I will demonstrate how a backyard astronomer can use the “drift scanning method” to record scientifically useful spectra using nothing but a camera, diffraction grating, and an untracked telescope. I will also discuss simple ways to optimize your resolution, so that you can record spectra that rival those taken with dedicated slit spectrographs costing upwards of $1k. Lastly, I will show off some examples of spectra that I've recorded from my backyard right here in NW Houston.

No prior knowledge is necessary, but attendees will likely find it beneficial to know ahead of time what the terms “spectrum”, “absorption”, and “emission” mean, and how to operate a simple telescope. Recommended reading: http://spiff.rit.edu/classes/phys301/lectures/spec_lines/spec_lines.html

AP Corner - March 2021

How I became an Astro Imager

By Ernie Felder

  Several years ago I planned my first imaging trip to Fort Griffin State Historic Site. It is located about 30 minutes north of Albany, Texas. A good six hour drive from Houston.  With a Bortle 2 to 3 sky and very low horizons it's a popular location for amateur astronomers. Away from the regular campsites there are seven astronomy campsites with 30 amp power and water. These sites use dark sky protocols.

  When I left home it was 80 degrees and the typical April rain but the forecast at Fort Griffin called for clearing in the evening and a high pressure area was to build in overnight. The rain quit just as I crossed IH20 at Eastland. To the north I could see blue sky in the distance.

  I arrived at around 4 pm in the afternoon and the temperature had dropped to 55 degrees. My wife and I set up the tent and coffeemaker. At the time I was just starting into DSO imaging. I had an old orange tube Celestron C8, a modded Canon T2i. These were mounted on an old Celestron CG5 that had been roboscoped for goto with Meade Autostar motors and controller. I setup the scope and mount and waited for Polaris to make an appearance.  Then I did my polar alignment and we went into Graham for dinner. Back then the astronomy camping area was very secluded and had a locked gate about a quarter of a mile away. If you had a reservation they would give you the gate code so you could come and go. They changed the code daily. I don't believe they do that anymore.

  When we returned it was very dark. I have to this day never seen such transparency and good seeing at the same time. My first target was M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy. Because of the primitive mount I was limited to 30 second subs. As the subs started downloading I knew I was getting really good data for my jury rigged setup.

The temperature started dropping like a rock. By midnight it was 35 degrees. Target number two was M104 the Sombrero Galaxy.

Messier Column - March 2021

By Jim King

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I started this month’s column on 02.14.21: St. Valentine’s Day.  Why? Primarily because my wife has zero interest in going out to eat on a day like this regardless of the occasion.  Of course, you may remember the weather forecast for today and the next several days will be a challenge for Texans in general, but especially for us astronomers…as it has been for the past few weeks.  One of the things that makes our passion a challenge and frequently frustrating, is that the opportunities to do the fun stuff sometimes are few and far-between.  Steve G. just this morning sent out a picture of the all-sky camera at our dark site…already ice-glazed…and the really bad weather has about six more hours to percolate before it arrives here in beautiful downtown Fulshear, Texas.  Time to poke my lip out and pout? 

I think not.

Shallow Sky Object of the Month: Kappa Cas, SAO11256

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2014.

 

by Bill Pellerin

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Kappa Cassiopeiae and its bow shock. Spitzer infrared image (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Object: Kappa Cas
Class: Fast moving Star
Constellation: Cassiopeia
Magnitude: 4.17
Speed: 2,500,000 miles/hr = 694 miles/sec
R.A.: 00 h 33m 00 s
Dec: 62 deg 55 min 54 sec
Size/Spectral: B
Distance: ~3500 ly
Optics needed: Unaided eye

Why this is interesting

This star shows up in the GCVS (the General Catalog of Variable Stars), but it isn’t very variable. AAVSO members have reported the star as dim as 4.25 and as bright as 3.8, but that’s not why it’s interesting.

Challenge Object - March 2021

By Stephen Jones

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NGC-2818 – Planetary Nebula in Pyxis

RA 09h16m01.5s Dec -36deg 37’37”

Size 93.0”x55.0” Vmag 11.9

 

This month’s challenge object is another off-the-beaten-path object in the southern skies.  NGC 2818 was discovered by James Dunlop in 1828.  It is a planetary nebula nestled within an open cluster, much like the more famous example of M46 and NGC 2438.  Interestingly, the cluster is not listed in the NGC as a separate object, but simply mentioned in the description of the nebula (“in a large cluster”).  Many atlases list both objects as NGC 2818, or one of them as NGC 2818A, but this is not technically correct.  Oddly, when I observed this object myself I made no note of the cluster at all; this may be because I was using the HAS observatory C14 so I may have been at sufficiently high magnification not to even notice the surrounding cluster as a cluster.  The nebula itself is of the two-lobed type like the Dumbbell Nebula M27, though much more “flattened” in shape. 

 

 

 

Asterisms – “A” Asterism

by Steve Goldberg

Asterism: A grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Sextans
Right Ascension: 10 h, 20 m 10s
Declination: 03o 06’ 20”
Magnitude:  10
Size: 15’ (minutes)

This grouping of 5 stars is called the “A Asterism”. It was named by Houston Astronomical Society member Bram Weisman. It is located in Sextans, between Regulus Alpha α in Leo and Alpha α Hydra.

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It is located at the “point” of a triangle formed with stars Alpha α and Beta β Sextans.

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The letter “A” is very distinctive. The magnification in this view is 48x.

This asterism is recognized by the Astronomical League in their Asterism Observing Program. Information about that AL program can be found here:   Asterism Observing Program

Bram wrote a “discovery” article in the May, 2017 Guidestar. You can see the Guidestar article here.

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Field of View - March 2021

M is for March and March is for Messier!

By Don Selle

Guidestar Editor

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Image Credit – from Wikipedia - Michael A. Phillips - http://astromaphilli14.blogspot.com.br/p/m.html official blog

 

Editor’s note – M is also for Mars. Way to go Percy! That’s how you stick a landing!

Well, it was touch and go for a few days in February, but we are finally on the downside of winter in SE Texas. From now until early May when it starts to get warmer, we usually can expect more temperate weather, though perhaps punctuated with a few thunderstorms. No need to get bundled up in three or four layers of clothing to spend some quality time under the stars.

For me, March means the beginning of “galaxy season”. By mid-March, the winter Milky Way is low on the western horizon later in the evening, and the North Galactic Pole (NGP) (located in the constellation Coma Berenices) is well up in the east.

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