September 2020

Armchair Astronomy - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

A picture containing person, sitting, night, darkDescription automatically generated


Potential Life in Venus’ Atmosphere

On Monday, September 14, planetary scientists and astro-biologists announced a stunning discovery, which if confirmed could lead to the conclusion that life exists in the atmosphere of Venus. The researchers announced that they had discovered the signature of a chemical called phosphine in Venus’ upper atmosphere, and the only known way that phosphine is created is via biological processes. If proven to be true, this discovery would be the first accepted evidence of extraterrestrial life, and this would be hugely important!

The discovery itself is still somewhat controversial, as is the assertion of the researchers that the only known way that phosphine is produced is by life. Skeptics counter that given the nature of Venus’ environment and the composition of its atmosphere, there may be a pathway to produce phosphine on Venus that is not found on Earth.

Astrophotography Corner - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

Live View Focusing

Our astrophotography question this month comes from Marlin Sandlin. Like many of us, Marlin is starting out in astrophotography by learning to shoot the biggest and brightest object in out night sky. This is a great way to start, since as a strarting point, it is fairly easy to get very acceptable pictures, even with a smartphone camera. To get really good high resolution lunar images take though requires different techniques, and perhaps different equipment. Here is Marlin’s question:

AP Corner 1.jpg
I need your help. The first image is taken with Nikon D700 and T-adapter attached to a C5. The next image with iPhone attached to C5, same night. iPhone image I would say is better. The D700 should be much sharper, more detailed I would think. Actually the image through the camera view finder is very sharp but when I take the digital photo that same sharpness is not present, which I don’t understand. It is not recording the same image sharpness that I see in the viewfinder. This is the first time using the camera with the telescope. The viewfinder has an adjustment for focus which I have set so that it is sharp to my eye. (Since there is no autofocus maybe the viewfinder adjustment is overcompensating for my eye and therefore the telescope focus is not really accurate for the camera???)

Visual Challenge Object - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

NGC-6946 Spiral Galaxy in Cepheus

by Stephen Jones
UPDATE: The VSIG meets via Zoom and is open to all HAS members. Just email Stephen 
at [email protected] to get on the list so you know time and date.

RA 20h34m52.3s Dec +60deg 09’14”
Size 11.5x9.8’ Vmag 9.6

NGC 6946 is a face-on spiral galaxy roughly 8 megaparsecs from Earth. This places it outside the Local Group of galaxies but within the local Virgo Supercluster. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1798. In recent years the galaxy has been popularly nicknamed the “fireworks galaxy” because more supernovae have been observed in NGC 6946 than in any other galaxy – 10 supernovae in 100 years.

This galaxy is located fairly close to our galactic plane and is obscured from our view somewhat by gas and dust from our galaxy. I first observed 6946 in my 16” about 6 years ago in my second night using that scope. My log read “Faint glow, very low surface brightness. Oval in shape I think; Can sort of get a hint of some spiral structure with averted vision, but hard to make out. Transparency is getting worse.”  I suspect under better conditions I could probably observe more detail but I haven’t gotten a chance lately to re-observe the object recently. What do you see?

The HAS VSIG would love to hear about your own visual observations of NGC 6946. Send them to the VSIG list server.  To get on the VSIG email list server, contact me at [email protected]

Field of View - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

Life in the Venusian Atmosphere & Astrophotography Corner

by Don Selle – Guidestar Editor

Venus-NewlyProcessedView-20200608.jpgAstronomy has been described as a “gateway” science. Most young people are introduced to astronomy early in their school careers, and some get hooked on science and later pursue careers in other scientific disciplines. Many of us (myself included) go on to other non-science careers but retain a strong lifelong interest in science generally and astronomy in particular. For us, amateur astronomy is a starting place for lifelong learning. A large astronomy club like HAS can provide many opportunities to its members for continuous learning.  We get to observe the forefront of current research and learn many new things in the process.

For example, HAS members who zoomed into the September 11th main meeting participated in a very informative presentation on vulcanism on Venus by Dr. Justin Filiberto of the Lunar and Planetary Institute. The presentation included a summary of his results (published last January) as well as an insider’s look at how he conducted his research, and  his commentary on how scientific results are presented in the professional literature, vs. how they are presented in the scientific press.

During a lively Q&A session, Dr. Filiberto gave listeners a huge bonus when he told us that a very major announcement about Venus would be coming out the very next Monday. While he could not tell us any more than that he was not involved on the team that would make the announcement, it was clear that he was very excited about what was about to be announced. Sure enough on Monday we learned that researchers had found evidence that life exists in the Venusian atmosphere!

This revelation of potential life in the atmosphere of Venus, as well as other recent research on how life might have come to exist there is discussed in more detail in this month’s Armchair Astronomy column.

Letter from the President - October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

Photo by Phillip Chee, licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Joe Khalaf – HAS President

Fall is officially upon us here in Space City.  As I write this article, the autumnal equinox just passed less than a week ago, and Houston is about to receive its first significant cold front, bringing our lows into the 50s.  Needless to say, this is a welcome respite from the summer heat here, but the changing of the seasons has always been a little bittersweet for me.

When I was younger, the transition from summer to fall meant the end of those long days at the neighborhood pool, endless hours running around outside and playing sports in the street, and generally speaking, doing all of those things that kids do.  Instead, I had to trade my shorts in for longer pants (my school district didn’t permit the wearing of shorts), trim my hair (yes, I once had hair, and the school district didn’t like for it to be anywhere near the collar), and start to get serious about my studies for the upcoming school year.

My friends in the summer were mostly neighborhood kids that I wouldn’t generally see in my classrooms, but we seemed to rekindle our bonds of friendship once the school year ended in late May.  Once the school year began, though, I couldn’t wait to see the other friends I hadn’t seen for months.  It was always interesting to see just how much we all changed over the course of one short summer and getting a chance to be with these friends certainly meant that we’d turned the page on one season and were moving into another.

Asterisms – Fish Hook in Taurus

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.
by Steve Goldberg

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

Constellation: Taurus
Right Ascension:  04h 25m 00.0s
Declination: +21° 15' 00"
Magnitude:  +5 to +8
Size: 2.5o

This asterism is located in Taurus, the Bull. Starting with Aldebaran, Alpha Tau, cross over to the other side of bull’s horns, and locate stars Kappa 1 and Kappa 2. These are a close pair of stars. In the picture they are just below the space in “Fish Hook.”
Locate star 72 Tau. This is the top of the Fish Hook, where the fishing line is attached. Follow the line of stars to the left, going thru Kappa 1 & 2, around to 53, 51 and end at 56 where the hook ends.
Since this is a large object, the Fish Hook is better seen in the finder or a pair of binoculars. To give you an idea of the size, the circle is a 40mm eyepiece at 29X on a 10” scope. The circle is 1.5 degrees across.

Unique Telescopes for Kids

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.
by Amelia Goldberg
This is an update on my project to get children actively involved in astronomy by giving them their own personal telescope, one designed by the child. I feel that if they have their own telescope, one they have helped to paint and decorate, they are more likely to use it.

This article is about my second telescope project. We were out at the Dark Site in mid-August.  On Saturday night, we ventured out onto the observing field to say hello to the people who were there and we met a new club member, Aparna Ambesange and her family. It turned out that I had spoken to Aparna over the phone when she called with questions about the Universe Sampler program. They had borrowed one of the loner scopes and was having trouble finding anything with it. Somehow the Telrad had gotten misaligned. Steve realigned it and we showed them a few objects in the sky. The young daughter, Roshni, had a book for kids with 50 things to see with a telescope and she talked about several of the objects in the book while we were with them. She seemed very excited and really into it. Later that night I mentioned to Steve that I thought she might be my next telescope kid.

Shallow Sky Object of the Month: Theta Ser/Alya—Double Star

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 2020.

Theta Serpens Cauda

By Bill Pellerin, GuideStar Editor – Originally published in October 2015

Object:  Theta Ser / Alya (SAO124068)
Class:  Double Star
Constallation:  Serpens (Cauda)
Magnitude:  4.6
R.A.:    18 h 56 m 13 s
Dec:    4 deg 12 min 13 sec
Size/Spectral:  A5V, Separation 22”
Distance:   132 ly
Optics needed: Binoculars or small telescope

Serpens is the only constellation in the sky that is split into two pieces, Serpens Cauda (the tail of the serpent) and Serpens Caput (the head of the snake). Neither Serpens Cauda, nor its other half, Serpens Caput get much love from amateur astronomers. Serpens Cauda hosts M16, the Eagle Nebula, and Serpens Caput hosts M5, a nice globular cluster.

Visually, this is a terrific double star to observe. I happened on in as the result of an article by Sue French in Sky & Telescope magazine. Nice and bright, with two stars of similar magnitudes. The brighter star is only slightly brighter at magnitude 4.62 and the dimmer star is at 4.98 magnitude. These are knock-your-eyes out A class main sequence stars, with diameters twice that of our Sun and luminosities (intrinsic brightnesses) of 18 and 15 times the Sun...

Click the read more button for rest of article.

Messier Objects for October 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar October, 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 October.  Some months may have a special treat in addition to the Messier Objects.  Check the trailer. 

M22: Globular Cluster

Without question, M22 should be called “The Great Sagittarius Cluster.” It is a bonfire of 500,000 stars that blazes at magnitude 5.2 and measures 32’ across – about the apparent diameter of the full Moon.  Among globulars, it ranks third only to Omega Centauri and 47 Tucanae in brightness and apparent size.

Messier notes: (Observed June 5, 1764) Nebula, below the elliptic, between the head and bow of Sagittarius, close to the seventh-magnitude star Flamsteed 25 Sagittarii.  This nebula is circular, does not contain any stars, and is clearly visible in a simple refractor. 

NGC note: Very remarkable globular cluster, very bright, very large, round, very rich very much compressed, stars from 11th to 15th magnitude.

Data: Messier 22, AKA: NGC 6656

Con: Sagittarius                                            Mag: 5.2

RA: 18h 36.4m                                               Dec: -23.54

Dist: ~10,400 ly

Field of View - September 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar September, 2020.

Pandemic Impact on Amateur Astronomy

By Don Selle – Guidestar Editor

comet NEOWISE.jpg

By this stage in the Covid pandemic, no one would argue that we have all changed what we do and how we do it.  The question that is being asked now, is what changes will stick and become the new normal? 

For HAS this question becomes, what will amateur astronomy look like going forward? Will we adapt and grow, and foster new and younger members or will we suffer because of the pandemic. These are certainly not life and death issues for us as individuals, but an organization like HAS must change with the times in order to stay relevant to our members.

So what are HAS members doing during the doing differently now that may carry beyond the pandemic? Results of a recent nationwide poll I heard indicate that 35% of Americans have taken up a new hobby. Whether due to changes in how (or if) we are working, for many of us the lack of a commute means we have more free time than before. It makes sense that we would use it on astronomy.

The pole only confirmed what we already knew. You are joining HAS at a record rate! Fortunately, HAS leadership had been discussing and trying out new ways to engage our members, especially those just joining, so it did not take us too long to adapt. Rene Gedaly and the Membership Committee have increased our engagement with new members. We have also made several changes to make it easier for new members to become active members.

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