COVID-19 update from the Houston Astronomical Society

Dear friends,

As we monitor the latest developments of the COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership of the Houston Astronomical Society has been meeting regularly to identify the impact this has on our club and any activities we currently have scheduled.

First and foremost, the health and safety of our members is of paramount importance to us, and the decisions we've made have been done so with this in mind.  Therefore, beginning today, Friday, March 13, 2020, we will be placing a moratorium on all club activities that require in-person attendance.  This includes, but is not limited to, regular and novice meetings being held at the Trini Mendenhall Center, group observing classes and events, astronomy and telescope training of any kind, and all public outreach events - basically any activities in which a physical gathering of people in close proximity is required.  This moratorium will be in place until April 15, at which time, we will reassess the situation and make a decision on either lifting or extending the moratorium. ...

Dark site considerations

This moratorium also includes any club-sanctioned group activities at the dark site, including the upcoming Novice Lab and the Messier Marathon, both which have been canceled at this time.  However, visits to the dark site by members and their guests are permitted with the following caveats:

  • For the safety of all members, the observatory building and any shared club assets contained within (observatory telescopes, eyepieces, computers, etc...) will have access limited to only the members of the Observatory Committee and any persons designated by the Observatory Chairperson for the maintenance and operation of these assets.  Anyone who is not a member of the Observatory Committee - myself included - will need to be granted access by Chris Ober, our Observatory Chairperson, or any designate of the Observatory Committee in order to access the observatory building during this time.  This restriction is also inclusive of the Dob shed and its contents.
  • Access to private observatories, RVs, private observing pads, and club observing pads can continue, as-is. Members and their guests will be asked to limit access to just their observatory and/or RV, observing pads, and to the restroom building.  Upon your visit, you are encouraged to bring your own own disinfecting wipes and sprays as a precaution when using the restrooms. All members and guests are asked to try and maintain a 3-meter distance from others at the site.
  • Lastly, the bunkhouses will be closed during the moratorium and access limited to the Observatory Committee for general upkeep and maintenance.  Though this was a difficult choice, it was made to avoid any unnecessary risks to members, guests, and others.  Tent camping will be permitted in the area designated for it, however.

All other observatory and dark site rules are still in effect.

Again, this moratorium will be reassessed on April 15, at which time a decision will be made to lift or extend it based on the information available to us by public health officials.

On a positive note:

The good news is that our guest speaker for the April meeting, Vince Estrada-Carpenter,  has agreed to give his presentation to our club via Zoom.  For those unfamiliar, Zoom is an online platform used by many organizations to conduct remote meetings.  We feel that this platform will provide a rich experience for the April meeting, and hope that you will join us for Vince's meeting titled, "Galaxy Evolution in the Infrared." More details will be communicated with you soon.

Closing thoughts:

The recent developments with the COVID-19 pandemic present the world with new, unprecedented challenges that we will need to work through and cope with.  While we may not know what the immediate future has in store for us, we all look forward to a return to normalcy in our club's operations and, more generally, in our daily lives.  H.A.S. will continue to look for new and innovative ways to engage with our members during this time, so please keep an eye open for those.

Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this moratorium or anything else related to the Houston Astronomical Society, please feel free to email me.  I look forward to seeing you at a club meeting or event when it is safe to do so - hopefully sooner rather than later.

In good health and with clear skies!

Regards,

Joe Khalaf
President
Houston Astronomical Society

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