April 2017

2014 JO25 "The Rock" Flies by Slooh's Canary Islands Telescopes

Slooh press release: Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 8:06 PM

Earlier today, the asteroid 2014 JO25 - nicknamed "The Rock" - flew past the Earth on its close approach with our planet. Tonight, Slooh pointed their telescopes at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands toward the skies and captured the massive space rock as it whizzed by.

The asteroid came closer to Earth than it has in more than 400 years, and closer than any asteroid of its size in 13 years.

Early estimates put the size of "The Rock" - named for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson - at about 600 meters wide, but astronomers discovered earlier today that it was actually twice that size, coming in at a whopping 1.3 Kilometers in length.

Professor Comet Report - Spring 2017 (May/June)

Welcome to the Comet Report which is a monthly or seasonal article on the observations of comets by the amateur astronomy community and comet hunters from around the world! This article is dedicated to the latest reports of available comets for observations, current state of those comets, future predictions, & projections for observations in comet astronomy!

                                                                                   – Justin McCollum

New Updates on the Professor Comet Reports!

WSIG/Texas 45 Class Recap

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Rene Gedaly
HAS Texas 45 Coordinator, WSIG Co-chair

Jenifer and Lane at Logan's Cove

From beginning 'til end, it was a whirlwind trip through the Texas 45 winter list. Not all of us made 10 objects—it was the first days of spring, after all, but we all did become hooked on visual astronomy. 

We started with an overview of the Texas 45 program requirements in the observatory, continued with planisphere and star chart skills, and then moved to the field for naked eye and binocular observations. By astronomical twilight no student was interested in using a GoTo scope—they wanted to keep finding objects themselves. What a class!

Speaking of class, this first group of students included Lisa Herrington, daughter Lauren Herrington, Ingrid Schenkel, daughter Sophie Schenkel, Jenifer Head, boyfriend Lane Harrison, and Sherry Irby, who completed 10 objects on the Texas 45 winter list her second time out. Kudos to all!

I'd also like to thank my WSIG Co-chair Amelia Goldberg on her 8" pink scope and fellow instructor Steve Goldberg on his 10" Dobsonian.They both gave much appreciated one-on-one time with students. As for me, I was back and forth between students using binoculars in the parking lot and showing students how to use their star charts with the observatory 12.5" reflector. From what I could see, we must have some serious writers in the group. I can hardly wait to read their logs.

The date for the spring class is April 22 and you can RSVP now to [email protected]. The Texas 45 class is conducted by the co-chairs of the WSIG and is open to all members of HAS. It seems two or so students per instructor is the sweet spot, so we won’t be able to expand the class to more than 6 students…unless we draft more instructors. Hmm. 

Deep Sky Object of the Month - the Leo Trio

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Stephen Jones

Objects: M65, M66, and NGC3628 (aka the Leo Trio)
Constellation: Leo
Type: Spiral Galaxies
Magnitudes: M65 – 9.3, M66 – 8.9, NGC3628 – 9.5
Discoverers: M65 and M66 – Charles Messier, 1780; NGC 3628 – William Herschel, 1784
Equipment necessary:  A small telescope should show them from a dark site; larger scopes needed for finer detail

One of my favorite groups of galaxies visible in the spring sky is this fine trio of bright galaxies near the hind-quarters of the constellation Leo (that is, the eastern part of the constellation).  They are quite easy to find, about halfway in between Theta (θ) and Iota (ι) Leonis (see chart). 

With a small telescope and low power, you may be able to fit all three galaxies in the same field.  With larger scopes and higher powers, this may not be possible, but instead the fun is in the detail visible in the individual galaxies.

M65 is a lovely spiral galaxy, fairly evenly bright.  You can see a bright central nucleus fading gradually outward.  It is seen as oval in shape, because we are seeing the relatively flat spiral galaxy at an inclination of around 30 degrees from edge-on.  Of the three galaxies, M65 has the least obvious detail for visual observers, though some have reported seeing dust lanes in scopes over 16”. 

M66 is the brightest galaxy of the three, right next to a quite obvious y-shaped pattern of fairly bright stars.  It appears oval in shape, with a fairly bright nucleus in the center and fainter outer areas.  In larger scopes, you may be able to tell that the brightness distribution is a little uneven;  Photographs reveal that the reason for this is that one of the main spiral arms is brighter and extends a bit further than the other.  Astrophysicists theorize this is due to a past close encounter with NGC 3628. 

NGC 3628, though the faintest galaxy in the group, is perhaps the most interesting to look at.  It is almost perfectly edge-on to us, so we do not see a bright round nucleus or spiral arms here; instead, we see a big dust lane right down the middle.  Examining the galaxy with high power in a larger scope brings out the dust lane very clearly.  I recently spent a good bit of time on this galaxy with the C14 in the observatory.  I noted that compared to other edge-on galaxies, this one appears very noticeably asymmetrical, with the dust lane looking perhaps slightly warped.  This also shows evidence of the past encounter between this galaxy and M66. 

Asterisms – Star Gate, STF 1659

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Steve Goldberg

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Corvus
Right Ascension: 12 h 35 m 59 s
Declination: -12o 03’ 09”
Magnitude: 6.61 to 11.56              

The constellation Corvus is located in our southern skies and is easily seen from our Observatory Dark Site. Locate the 2 most northern stars of the Corvus “square”, Delta and Eta. Head towards M104.

This asterism is composed of 6 stars. 3 bright stars that form a triangle, and 3 dimmer stars that form a triangle inside the outer triangle. This asterism is located near Messier 104.

The distance to Star Gate is 72LY (light years). The designation STF is Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve’s catalog. Sometimes the designation ∑ Sigma is used for Struve objects.  The 82” telescope at McDonald Observatory in west Texas is named the “Otto Struve Telescope”. Otto Struve, the great-grandson of Friedrich, was the first Observatory Director of McDonald.

Here is a link to the Otto Struve telescope at McDonald Observatory: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/research/telescopes/Struve

Announcing the Visual Observing SIG (VSIG)

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

My name is Stephen Jones, your friendly neighborhood Field Trip and Observing Chair here in HAS.  In the years since I’ve returned to HAS after a long hiatus, one thing I’ve noticed is that when the club gets together at our monthly meetings, there’s just not a whole lot of in-depth talk about observing.   We talk about outreach, we talk about equipment, we may talk a LITTLE bit about a very basic observing topic at the Novice meeting, and then at the general meeting we discuss club organizational stuff and have a speaker talking about some astropStephen Jones, Houston Astronomical Societyhysical topic, or some current issue in the hobby, or just about anything other than observing.  And yet… observing is at the very core of who we are.  The club exists because a bunch of observers came together and decided to organize.  The biggest reason beginners join a club like ours is because they bought a telescope, or think they want to buy a telescope, and want some guidance as to how to use it.  In short, they are joining us because they want to become OBSERVERS.  So, as the member of our leadership team in charge of observing, I have decided to do something about this.

Today I am announcing the creation of the Houston Astronomical Society’s Visual Observing Special Interest Group (VSIG).  The VSIG will be a subgroup of the club, open to all members with interest in observing, with its own monthly meetings.  These meetings are not intended to replace or be alternatives to the Novice and General meetings, but rather to add to them.  The VSIG meetings will be more of a seminar-type format than the General and Novice meetings; instead of one speaker using almost the whole time with a limited time for questions, anyone in the group who wants to discuss their current observing projects or challenges can take a few minutes to present and discuss with the group.  Novices joining the group can seek advice with their observing aspirations or questions about issues they’ve already experienced.  Any topics about visual observing (that is, eye to eyepiece, NOT astrophotography) are fair game: deep sky observing, planetary observing, double or variable star observing… etc.  The VSIG will meet on the third Wednesday of each month at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, at 7 pm.  The first meeting will be April 19.  Hope to see you there!

-Stephen Jones

 Field Trip and Observing Chair

President’s Letter

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2017.

by Rene S Gedaly

SIGs are Back

That's Special Interest Groups or SIGs. We've had them before, in a galaxy far, far away. Now they're back and I'm especially excited about a new one being introduced by our Field Trip & Observing guy, Stephen Jones. Don’t miss his announcement elsewhere in this GuideStar.

HAS Youth

A perennial question of astronomy groups everywhere has been how to get youth involved in our hobby. My answer has always been to go where they live, and if you have something to offer, they'll come visit you. It's a working strategy for HAS. They live online, of course. And we offer plenty.

Karla Pale, our HAS intern, is giving her senior thesis presentation on “Indirect Methods of Detecting Dark Matter” April 25 at The School of the Woods. We were hoping to have Karla speak to us at UH but she’s leaving soon on her way to university. As her field advisor, I’ll be attending. Maybe I can do Facebook live.

Clay Parenti is a ninth grader at Westchester Academy for International Studies and has been active in astronomy, picking up youth awards along the way. You’ve seen or read about him in previous GuideStars. Clay spent a very special spring break this year. Check out how later in this issue.

Edgar Najera is a college student at Lone Star – University Park and is also president of his astronomy club there. He spent a couple of nights over spring break at the HAS Observatory, staying in the men's bunkhouse. Edgar learned observatory operations in the first revamped training class in March. You may recall seeing a photo of another LSC student at observatory training last month, Megan Galvan at the C14.

Sophie Schenkel has been at the dark site often over the past year for the Novice Observing and WSIG Telescope labs plus is a member of the 2017 Texas45 observing class along with mom Ingrid. They are so intent on graduating and earning their award certificates and pins, they’ve asked how they can cover observations of winter objects they’ve missed and summer objects they may not be able to get to. Yes, it is definitely possible to see list objects outside their given season. Winter list objects, for example, can be seen in the fall by observing in the hours before sunrise instead of in the evening.

Brand new member Lauren Herrington brought her mom to the second observatory training class. Mom had to come along because Lauren is just 15. They came early to help with bunkhouse work day, broke away to attend class in the observatory, and later that evening got to the Novice Observing Lab on the field. Stephen Jones was so impressed by this accomplished young astronomer that he put her and her 8” scope to work showing beginning observers the sky. If you've been to the dark site lately, or to a recent outreach event, or to a meeting at UH, you've seen Lauren and mom Lisa. They're the ones in tie-dye.

We have many student members in HAS; 55 in fact. If I haven't mentioned your name, trust me, I've seen many of you and know you’re active in outreach and such. Come say hi and get as involved as you like or as your schedule allows. Astronomy is a great hobby and we're glad you're a part of it. Who knows? You could grow up to be another HAS legacy, like Field Trip & Observing Chair Stephen Jones.

Outreach at The VIllage School

by Joe Khalaf, Education & Outreach

On Friday night, March 31, H.A.S. was at The Village School in west Houston to host an outreach star party for students, their parents, and teachers.  The weather was perfect, the seeing was really good, and asides from a few lights down the street, the field we set up in was fantastic. There were lots of kids and parents milling around asking great questions, and we were able to treat the visitors with a brief sky tour, followed by showing off a number of objects in the night sky. I’m certain there were at least two future astronomers in the bunch.

Visitors were treated to views of the moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, M41, M42, Sirius, and other objects. In addition, lots of H.A.S. volunteers were there to help explain what people were looking at through the eyepieces. There were at least a dozen occasions where “wow,” or “that’s wild” were heard by visitors. At some point, Publicity Chairman Bram Weisman used a 12mm Delos with a 2.5x Powermate in one of the school’s 10” Dobs to give some people a glimpse of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter.

HAS outreach volunteers included Amelia and Steve Goldberg, Don Selle, Jim King, Daniel and Jaap Vrolijk, Ed Fraini, Bram Weisman, Sarah Silva, Joe Khalaf, and new members Carlos Brunet and his family. All told, there were approximately 10 telescopes and 13 H.A.S. members on the field – which might be a new record for one of our club outreach events! Bram also had new club postcards that were handed out, so we look forward to hopefully having some of the people who were in attendance last night joining us for our next club meeting at U.H.





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