February 2020

Betelgeuse and the Crab Nebula: Stellar Death and Rebirth

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Betelgeuse and the Crab Nebula: Stellar Death and Rebirth

BetelgeuseM1.PNGDavid Prosper

What happens when a star dies? Stargazers are paying close attention to the red giant star Betelgeuse since it recently dimmed in brightness, causing speculation that it may soon end in a brilliant supernova. While it likely won’t explode quite yet, we can preview its fate by observing the nearby Crab Nebula.

Betelgeuse, despite its recent dimming, is still easy to find as the red-hued shoulder star of Orion. A known variable star, Betelgeuse usually competes for the position of the brightest star in Orion with brilliant blue-white Rigel, but recently its brightness has faded to below that of nearby Aldebaran, in Taurus. Betelgeuse is a young star, estimated to be a few million years old, but due to its giant size it leads a fast and furious life. This massive star, known as a supergiant, exhausted the hydrogen fuel in its core and began to fuse helium instead, which caused the outer layers of the star to cool and swell dramatically in size. Betelgeuse is one of the only stars for which we have any kind of detailed surface observations due to its huge size – somewhere between the diameter of the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - and relatively close distance of about 642 light-years. Betelgeuse is also a “runaway star,” with its remarkable speed possibly triggered by merging with a smaller companion star. If that is the case, Betelgeuse may actually have millions of years left! So, Betelgeuse may not explode soon after all; or it might explode tomorrow! We have much more to learn about this intriguing star.

The Crab Nebula (M1) is relatively close to Betelgeuse in the sky, in the nearby constellation of Taurus. Its ghostly, spidery gas clouds result from a massive explosion; a supernova observed by astronomers in 1054! A backyard telescope allows you to see some details, but only advanced telescopes reveal the rapidly spinning neutron star found in its center: the last stellar remnant from that cataclysmic event. These gas clouds …

Messier of the Month - March 2020

by Jim King

This is the first installment of a series of columns revolving around observing the Messier Catalogue.  The intent is to provide the reader a small sampling of the Messier objects that are most visible in the time frame the column is published.  Hence, these objects should be easily identifiable in and around the month of February and early March. The objects covered in this column are M1, M103, and M42.

M1.PNGM1: The Crab Nebula.  The Crab was formed in July 1054, when its progenitor star blasted away most of its mass in a supernova explosion.  The event was recorded in several locations around the globe, but there are no known European references to the explosion.  It is still expanding at a rate of over 600 miles per second…almost 50 million miles per day!  Although created by an event similar, but more violent than that which creates a typical planetary nebula, the Crab does not have a typical planetary nebula’s form.  It is classed instead, as a supernova remnant.  The Crab’s pulsar rotates at 30 times per second.  First identified by John Bevis in 1731.

Object: Messier 001, aka NGC 1952, aka The Crab Nebula
Type: Supernova Remnant             
Con: Taurus
RA: 5.34.5   Dec: +22.01   Mag: 8.4  Dist: 6,500 ly
Opt view: (February) 08.00pm. Desc: Very bright, very large, extends roughly along position angle 135 degrees; very gradually, a little brighter in the middle, mottled.

M103: One of the less notable open clusters in Messier’s Catalogue, it was originally identified   … 

Gate code changes Mar 7. Take orientation soon

Need to complete yearly Dark Site orientation? Here's how:

  1. Log in to the website. If you have a problem logging in and it’s within the yearly grace period for renewal, email [email protected]
  2. Pay this year’s dues if you haven’t yet. You can use the PayPal button on each web page or mail a check to Houston Astronomical Society, PO Box 6657, Katy, TX 77491
  3. Navigate to Observatory page. Click tabs About the Society => Observatory
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  4. Scroll down Observatory page and click the START YOUR TRAINING button.
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See you at the H.A.S. Dark Site! 
posted by rene-gedaly 2/29/2020

March 06, 2020: Monthly Meeting Speakers at Mendenhall

Novice Meeting: 6:30PM
Novice Meeting Topic: 
"Navigating the Spring Sky"
Novice Meeting Speaker: 
Debbie Moran
General Meeting: 7:15PM
General Meeting Topic: 
Getting Apollo to the Moon and Back Again
General Meeting Speaker: 
Don Cooper - NASA Physicist and Mathematician
About the General Meeting Presentation

Apollo

What did it take to accomplish this history making project? Hear an on the scene account from one of the NASA scientists who helped make that dream a reality.

Using a Saturn V scale model, a slide show and a voice recording of the lunar landing, F. Don Cooper shares his experience in creating the technology to launch Apollo 11 and how his team contributed to bring the Apollo 13 crew safely home in 1970. His presentation appeals to all ages.

Cooper worked as a mathematician at the George C. Marshall NASA center in Huntsville, Alabama where he helped create the equations to send the astronauts from earth orbit toward the moon. He then came to Houston to work for the Johnson Spacecraft Center.

After retiring, Cooper began to encourage a new generation to pursue a future in the physical sciences. He speaks at schools, libraries and colleges, hoping to inspire students to become the technology leaders of tomorrow. "My objective is to emphasize that education is essential and show how math and physics are used to solve real world problems."

Come join us in the Astro Café from 6–6:30 pm for some social time before the presentations. Light refreshments will be served.

Parking and Directions (View Map)

Meetings are held at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, which is located at 1414 Wirt Rd, Houson, TX 77055.

PARKING INFORMATION: Free parking in the lot in front of the TMCC.


Map to Trini Mendenhall Community Center

At the February H.A.S. meeting

February H.A.S. meeting

At the February meeting: Larry Mitchell speaks on The Amateur in Astronomy: Past, Present, and Local, Val Ricks receives an Astronomical League award from AlCor Doug McCormick, Bill Spizzirri shares 21 Lunar Facts.

Bottom right: Take care to read the Mendenhall meeting room board correctly. Two organizations with similar names meet on the same night.  

HAS meetings are held the first Friday of the month at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd, Houston, TX 77055. Astro Café starts at 6:00 pm, Novice Session at 6:30 pm, and main meeting at 7:15 pm. Check the website in case of changes.

Posted by: rene-gedaly Link: https://www.astronomyhouston.org/content/february-meeting

At the February meeting

FebMtgPix fotor edit.png

At the February meeting: Larry Mitchell speaks on The Amateur in Astronomy: Past, Present, and Local, Val Ricks receives an Astronomical League award from AlCor Doug McCormick, Bill Spizzirri shares 21 Lunar Facts.

Bottom right: Take care to read the Mendenhall meeting room board correctly. Two organizations with similar names meet on the same night.  

HAS meetings are held the first Friday of the month at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd, Houston, TX 77055. Astro Café starts at 6:00 pm, Novice Session at 6:30 pm, and main meeting at 7:15 pm. Check the website in case of changes.

Posted by: rene-gedaly Link: https://www.astronomyhouston.org/content/february-meeting

Outreach report for Valentine’s event at the Schaefer Observatory

the_Rocket_Ship.pngby Rene Gedaly
Friday night could not have been better weather for a public observing event. Folks seemed to know it, too, as they travelled to Schulenburg from as far away as the east side of Houston. Inside a warm classroom, I gave a brief talk about what we were going to see, and why, to a couple of dozen stargazers ranging in age from 3 to 63. For this crowd, Lepus became the Bunny Rabbit and Orion the Hunter was armed with shield and club. We did have several teenagers, so Messier 35 in Gemini became Castor’s toe ring. One 12-year-old boy didn’t see the Big Dipper asterism rising in the north but the Rocket Ship! You can see it, too, if you extend the end stars of the dipper bowl to the snout of the Big Bear. I told him I’d be using that asterism of his from now on.

We continued with questions as we walked across the Blinn College parking lot to line up with South Street, a straight as an arrow boulevard running east to west and conveniently lined with large oak trees. After pointing out Venus blinding us from above, we started navigating down to Mercury which had just crested a tree and was making its way front and center. Not many in humanity have seen Mercury so one-by-one the adults and teens thrilled to spot it. It took a little while for the under 12 crowd, but parents would not give up until their children had seen it too. My funny wizard hat saved the day for one mom as she was able to position me so that Mercury was at the hat’s tip and lifted her son to her eye level to spot it. “Oh, that orange dot?” And after a chuckle, we moved on to the observing field.

Winter is a great time to talk stellar evolution while pointing out naked eye objects like the Pleiades—stars in their childhood; the Hyades—teenaged stars who prefer some distance but still hang out together; and, of course, the most spectacular stellar nursery the night sky affords us—the Great Orion Nebula. Winter is not known for globular clusters, but Lepus came to the rescue with Messier 79 to round out the other end of the stellar life cycle. Equipped with printed Skymaps, clipboards, soft pencils and red flashlights, we began the constellation tour... click read more button 

Get your observing on!

by Stephen Jones
In my personal opinion, the greatest benefit of membership in HAS is the access to our Dark Site.  One thing I see so often on astronomy forums is people like us who live in urban areas talking about the things they have to deal with when trying to do astronomy from dark locations.

StephenJones.jpgThings like needing portable power packs, to dealing with critters, local law enforcement, or even yokels with guns.  On top of this, many of these people, especially in the Northeast, have to drive for 3+ hours just to get to a site decently dark enough for deep-sky astronomy.  How fortunate we are that we don’t have to deal with any of these things.  

The HAS Dark Site is an hour or less from parts of the West side of the metro area and no more than 2 hours from the furthest reaches of the East side.  It has all of the amenities you need for observing: solid ground to set your scope on, electricity, restrooms, bunkhouses to sleep in, a legal right for you to be there, and no one waving a gun in your face (critters can be a wild card, but they tend to stay away too).  There’s even telescopes you can borrow out there.  There are also all kinds of great events going on at the Dark Site throughout the year, like the Messier Marathon, Annual Picnic, and other great events put on by Jim King, our Field Trip and Observing Chair, as well as my Novice Lab program.

But there’s also no need to wait for an event to get out there!  Remember, your membership gets you 24-7 access to the dark site (with completion of the orientation, of course).  If the conditions are good there’s bound to be someone out there.  If you’re still worried about being there by yourself, connect with other members! Several folks, including myself, will frequently post to the email server or to the Facebook group when we are heading out there.  Feel free to send a post out there yourself if you’re thinking of going.  ... 

Dark Site hot beverage bar to open

It gets cold outside observing. Warm up with a cup of coffe, hot chocolate, or tea at the Dark Site in front of the Dob shed. I’ll open up the hot beverage bar on third quarter and new moon Saturday nights through March. That’s 2/15, 2/22, 3/14, and 3/21. During third quarter, the moon does not rise until after midnight. During new moon, we don’t see the moon at all during the night time hours. So review the light rules, pick out your spot on the field, and when it’s cold, share some conversation over a hot brew at the Dob shed. —Rene Gedaly, [email protected] 

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