July 2020

Field of View - August 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.

Field of View

By Don Selle  HAS Guidestar Editor

Pool Pano-sm.jpg

It’s pretty clear by now that the Covid-19 is going to be here with us for a while longer.  We have changed our behaviors to adapt (as people for countless generations before us have done) and are still actively pursuing our love of the night sky, even if things are a little different now. While due to cancellations, there is no replacing the star party experience many of us enjoy each year, or the absence of face to face outreach events, we are still finding ways to get out and do astronomy.

Summer Triangle Corner: Deneb

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.


This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

by David Prosper


The Summer Triangle is high in the sky after sunset this month for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, its component stars seemingly brighter than before, as they have risen out of the thick, murky air low on the horizon and into the crisper skies overhead. Deneb, while still bright when lower in the sky, now positively sparkles overhead as night begins. What makes Deneb special, in addition to being one of the three points of the Summer Triangle? Its brilliance has stirred the imaginations of people for thousands of years!

Shallow Sky Object - August 2020

August 2020 Visual Observing Challenge

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.

The Moons of Saturn

by Stephen Jones

This month for the challenge object we’re really going to change things up and go for something closer to home than the deep sky challenges we’ve been putting up there.  Anyone in this group really get into looking for the moons of the planets?  I know we all probably love the four bright moons of Jupiter and have observed them plenty, but before I rejoined the club several years ago I hadn't ever put much thought into the others.  Saturn has a lovely set of moons, and while none of them are as bright as Jupiter's big four, a great many of them are brighter than any of the OTHER moons of Jupiter.  Titan and Rhea are visible in pretty small telescopes, and an 8-inch should also easily pull in Dione, Tethys and Iapetus.  What struck me to mention this today is that recently at the Dark Site with my 16", I accomplished my first certain observation of Enceladus, and my first even suspected observation of Mimas.  That brings me to 7 moons of Saturn observed.  Quite a nifty observation.  


Messier Objects - August 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.


By Jim King

This is a series of columns primarily revolving around observing the Messier Catalogue.  The intent is to provide the reader a sampling of the Messier objects each month that are most visible in the time frame the column is published.  Hence, these deep sky objects should be easily identifiable in and around the month of August.  Some months may have a special treat in addition to the Messier Objects.  Check the trailer. 


M21: Open Cluster

The 2 degree-wide expanse of Milky Way encompassing M08, M20, and M21 is the most dramatic Messier field in the entire sky. At 23x, these objects and several other clusters and nebulous patches (both bright and dark) fill the field. 

Asterisms: ET, NGC 457, Owl Cluster, Caldwell 13, Kachina Doll Cluster

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.

By: Steve Goldberg

Asterism: a grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.

Constellation: Cassiopeia
Right Ascension: 01 h, 19 m 35s
Declination: 58o 17’ 12”
Magnitude:  5.1
Size: 15’ (minutes)

This cluster, NGC457, was discovered by William Herschel in 1787, and lies over 7,900 light years away from the Sun. The asterism is also commonly known as the Owl Cluster. After the movie “ET-The Extraterrestrial” was released the name “ET” was also given to this asterism.




Looking at this image you can see 2 bright stars, which are the eyes of ET. A horizontal line of stars under the “eyes” are the outstretched arms, with another line of stars going downward for the legs.


At public outreach events where children are present this object is a big hit.






Letter from the President - August 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar August, 2020.

When the leadership team met in January to plan out our upcoming year’s activities, one of the things I really wanted to focus on in 2020 was member engagement.  I’ve heard from others during the time I’ve spent on the leadership team here that, while the Houston Astronomical Society has a great number of amenities for members available to them, we could do more to interact with our members outside of our monthly meetings.  During that planning session, I had a series of member events - socials at bars and restaurants, field trips, and so on - that I wanted to start arranging for this year and beyond, and I had challenged all of the leaders to help us ideate on other things we could do to help in this endeavor.  I wanted to make sure that we were doing more to pull people in – especially our new members – to this hobby we all love.  I don’t think I’ve ever run across anyone who wasn’t absolutely fascinated by space and wanted to learn more about it but taking that next step into a real lifelong journey into learning about the cosmos was always the hardest part.  That’s where a club of like-minded individuals, like the Houston Astronomical Society, could help novices take that leap into becoming lifelong amateur astronomers.

Well, I don’t need to mention that certain conditions arose this year that threw our plans a curveball.  With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world and hitting our area especially hard, many of those events we had planned have fallen completely by the wayside.  As we scrambled to figure out how to continue providing value to our members and operating our club with this new reality in place, we’ve had to postpone a lot of those in-person events for the safety of everyone involved.  We even had to change how we did everything – from conducting our monthly meetings to how we interact at the dark site.  And unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for us to start planning to get together in person for all of the things we did before.

But just when you think things won’t turn around, Mother Nature gives us a pleasant surprise.  Almost out of the blue, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) came out of nowhere and gave us all something to be excited about.  I’ve seen a number of people who were, at best, casual astronomy fans all of the sudden gush with excitement about the comet.  And it’s everywhere!  I probably receive a dozen requests daily for help in finding a good spot to observe the comet or for “real-time” requests over email or social media in locating the comet while that person is out at a darker location looking for it...

Update on COVID-19 Dark Site Policy

As we continually re-evaluate our policies as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made a change to the bunkhouse closure we enacted several months back. 

Starting Friday, July 17, we will reopen the families/women's and men's bunkhouses, with the following rules and restrictions in place to maintain safety:

1.  Reservations for the bunkhouses must be made through email at [email protected]org and approved for use by our admins.  Bookings can be seen on the calendar at the bottom of our website at: https://www.astronomyhouston.org/about/has-observatory
2.  One person at a time may use a bunkhouse.  The only exception is for families staying in a bunkhouse together.
3.  A reservation can be made by the same person for multiple consecutive nights.
4.  No-shows will void a reservation.  If you make a reservation for a Friday and Saturday night, but you don't show up for Friday night, the Saturday portion will be cancelled and made available to another member.
5.  Once a stay in the bunkhouse is complete, no additional reservations will be made or permitted for a week.  We feel this is enough time, based on what we currently know, to allow any potential SARS-CoV-2 virus to die on surfaces in the bunkhouses, should an unknowingly infected person stay in the bunkhouses.

Although the observatory roof has been fixed, only those already trained on observatory use can reserve time on the observatory telescopes. In addition, only two telescope operators—one on each telescope—is permitted to enter and use the observatory at a time. The bunks in the chartroom are not allowed to be used. The Observatory building is not yet open for in-person training. 

Observatory / Dark Site Rules

  • The observatory is open only to previously trained operators as described above. Bring your own eyepieces – the observatory eyepiece case is not available.
  • The observatory building is not open for in-person training 
  • Dark Site observing pads, RVs, private observatories, and restrooms are open
  • Tent camping in the designated camping area is permitted
  • All other rules covered in online site training apply

To reserve time on an observatory telescope, email [email protected]. For questions about the observatory and use of the dark site facilities, email [email protected]. To take online site training, log into the website and click button Start Your Training near the bottom of this page https://astronomyhouston.org/about/has-observatory

We hope this allows our members a chance to take advantage of these amenities we have available to you, while maintaining as safe a posture as we possibly can.  We'll monitor the policies in place and make any changes necessary to ensure the safety of our members.  If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected] or Observatory Director Chris Ober at [email protected].  Thank you, and stay safe!

Joe Khalaf
Houston Astronomical Society

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