February 2020

At the February meeting

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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 Stepen 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... click read more button

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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