October 2020

Remembering Bill Leach

Original article appears in GuideStar November, 2020.

BLeach.jpgI knew Bill Leach by name, face, and reputation but did not really know the man. Over the years his name would pop up and though I wondered, I had not yet filled in the gaps of my education. It was time to do some hunting around our website.

When Leach was HAS President, 2007-2009, he never wrote a column for the GuideStar. I found that odd as good a science communicator as everyone knew him to be. Digging a little deeper, I saw that for many years he ran the Long Range Planning Committee and the Advanced SIG—a special interest group within the club. Whenever there was a new project of interest, Bill was sure to be involved. He was also the founder and a president of the North Houston Astronomy Club (NHAC) and ran several Astronomy Day and All Clubs events at a time when both events could have faded away in Houston. Bill also held the office of HAS Vice President for more years than anyone else in the society—not always consecutively but spanning decades to stay the course. That's deep knowledge and unwavering commitment to the citizen science of amateur astronomy. 

As VP, Bill Leach did find time to write columns about astronomy. Here's one that gives a sense of the man: The Quest to Know...and Understand (GuideStar 7–9). Many of us expand our knowledge of astronomy through books and special purpose websites, as do I. But there’s something about seeing the universe through the eyes of astronomy club members who live in Greater Houston that can’t be replaced. After all, we are members of Space City once more. What better source than here?

Rene Scandone Gedaly
HAS President 2015–2017

Field of View - November 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar November, 2020.

November – A Great Month for Observing at the Site!

Don SelleGuidestar Editor

I lovA sunset over a body of waterDescription automatically generatede November in SE Texas. The weather finally can be relied on to be cool. Between the time change back to CST and the calendar moving closer each day to the Winter Solstice, the nights are getting longer, and astronomy more comfortable. This makes November a great time to head to the HAS dark site in Columbus.

By mid-month, with the change to standard time, the sky is dark by 7:00pm, and a light window is added at 10:00pm. Because of the earlier sunset and better weather, we typically see more members using the site on the weekends closest to the 3rd quarter and new moons. Its possible to get 4 to 5 hours of dark sky observing in before leaving the site at the midnight light window. The cooler weather also makes camping at the site much more attractive and makes an all-nighter a real possibility!

You don’t have to wait for the weekend though to take advantage of the extended darkness that the winter brings. Observing at the dark site in the middle of the week is quite feasible, even for members who must work the next day!

After I joined HAS in the early 2000’s, I was known to do just this. Get to the site after work, set up, get 2-3 hours of dark sky observing in and still get home in town by midnight!

Shallow Sky Object of the Month: The Clear Daytime Sky

Original article appears in GuideStar November, 2020.

HoustonSky.PNGby Bill Pellerin

Object: The Clear Daytime Sky
Optics needed: Unaided eye

Why is the sky blue instead of some other color, or no color? Most of us know why, in general, the sky is blue, don’t we?  The short, quick answer is that it has something to do with the scattering of blue light from the by the atmosphere.

SO, WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN THE TIME THE LIGHT LEAVES THE PHOTOSPHERE OF THE SUN AND THE TIME IT REACHES US? THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN THAT JOURNEY IS THE LAST 10 OR 20 MILES OF ITS TRIP, IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF PLANET EARTH.

Light of different colors is electromagnetic radiation of different wavelengths. You may remember the name Roy G. Biv from school… the name was to help you remember...

Messier Objects for November 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar November, 2020.
Jim King, Field Trip & Observing Chair

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 November.  Some months may have a special treat in addition to the Messier Objects.  Check the trailer. 

M31: Spiral Galaxy (Andromeda)M31.PNG

Messier notes: (Observed August 3, 1764) The beautiful Nebula in the belt of Andromeda shaped like a spindle.  Messier examined it with several instruments but was unable to see any stars.  It resembles two cones or pyramids of light joined at their bases, and the axis of which lies northwest to southeast.  The two points of lights are perhaps some 40 minutes of arc apart. The common base of the two pyramids is about 15 minutes. 

NGC note: Magnificent object, extremely bright, extremely large, very much extended.

Data: Messier 31 aka NGC 224
Con: Andromeda Mag: 3.4
RA: 00h42.7m Dec: +41.16
Dist: ~2.5 million ly

M32: Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy (Companion to M31)

To the true romantic of Astronomy, M31 will always be known as the “Great Nebula in Andromeda” – a name bestowed on it before spectroscopy revealed that this luminous mist was not the protoplasmic soup of a solar system in formation, but a distant island universe like our own Milky Way.  An enormous pinwheel of dust and gas, the Andromeda Galaxy contains some 300 billion stars spread across 130,000 lightyears.  It is rushing towards us at 185 miles per second.

M31 is among the largest galaxies known and is by far the largest member of our local group of galaxies, which includes our Milky Way and some two dozen smaller systems.   

Messier notes: (Observed August 3, 1764) Small nebula without stars, below and a few minutes away from the nebula in the belt of Andromeda.  This small nebula is circular, its light fainter than that in the belt.    

NGC note:  Remarkable, very bright, large round, suddenly much brighter in the middle to a nucleus

Data: Messier 32 aka NGC 221
Con: Andromeda Mag: 8.2
RA: 00h 42.7m  Dec: +40.52
Dist: ~2.5 million ly           

Visual Challenge Object - November 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar November, 2020.

Stephen Jones, HAS VP

NGC-7006 Globular Cluster in Delphinus
RA 21h01m29.5s Dec +16deg 11’15”
Size 3.6’ Vmag 10.6

A picture containing objectDescription automatically generatedNGC 7006 was discovered by William Herschel in 1784.  It is a globular cluster in the outer reaches of the Milky Way’s halo, nearly 135,000 light years from Earth.  Due to its great distance, it appears very small, though it is very bright for its size due to the high concentration of stars.

I first observed it in 2014 with the 12.5” f/7 that used to reside in the HAS observatory.  Though that scope was generally great at resolving globulars, my log entry for 7006 read “small, round, fuzzy; no resolution, very round and fairly concentrated.”  Further research indicates a pretty good reason for the difficulty in resolving it: the cluster’s brightest individual star shines at 15.6 magnitude and most of the stars are fainter than magnitude 18!  Still, thanks to the combined light of the thousands of suns therein, the cluster should be easily visible unresolved even in fairly small telescopes.  Can you bag it?

The HAS VSIG would love to hear about your own visual observations of NGC 7006.  Send them to the VSIG list server.  To get on the VSIG email list server, contact me at [email protected]

2021 slate elected

Joe Khalaf, HAS President

As per the HAS bylaws, a Nominating Committee - led by Vice President Steven Jones - convened to provide a recommendation of candidates to serve as officers, board members, and committee chairpersons in 2021. The slate below was elected at the Annual meeting November 6, 2020:

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