February 2021

Letter from the President - March 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

March is a Time for Renewal  

Although most people associate January as the month when we turn a new page on the new year, for me, March is really a time for renewal.  As we leave February and head into the third month, it marks the waning of our winter season and all of the worst that Jack Frost can throw at us.  Grass starts to green a bit, leaves start to grow on trees, and the first buds on seasonal plants start to make their appearance.  In years past, given enough rain during the winter, you might even begin spotting your first bluebonnets in our part of Texas in March, as well.

From an astronomical sense, March is when spring technically starts, with the vernal equinox landing on March 20.  As some of you may remember, this is the day when there is an equal amount of sunlight hitting the earth on both the northern and southern hemispheres.  From here on out, we more amounts of sunshine in the northern hemisphere, while our friends below the equator start to plunge into their fall season.

But in addition to the renewal that takes place with nature around us, here at the Houston Astronomical Society, it’s a time for renewal, as well.  It’s in March when we start to really implement some of the new programs changes the leadership has planned for during our January planning meeting, and it’s also a time when we set the new gate codes for our dark site location near Columbus, TX.  It’s important that if you haven’t renewed your membership for 2021 that you do so quickly so that there’s no disruption to your access to all of the great programs and amenities that your club has to offer.  Whether it the access to the observing site for some excellent, dark skies within a short driving distance from Houston, to the use of our vast library of loaner telescopes, and, my personal favorite, being part of a community of astronomy enthusiasts who share their growth in this hobby together, the Houston Astronomical Society values each and every one of our members.  When I became president, I said that our members are the most important asset our club has to offer, and I will never be persuaded otherwise.  So please renew your membership at https://astronomyhouston.org/members/renew if you haven’t done so yet, and for all of you who have done so, we look forward to this next trip around the sun with you in 2021.


Recently, the Houston Astronomical Society welcomed its 800th member to the club.  As far as I know (and I’ve asked others who have been with the club for a long time) this is the largest number of members we’ve ever had.  For years, people lamented the “graying” of amateur astronomy, but if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that people of all ages are actively pursuing our hobby.  I’ve heard from our friends in other clubs here locally and around the United States, and they all say that they’re experiencing significant membership growth, as well, so we’re excited to see all of the new people entering this hobby! 

It’s important for us to make sure we’re hitting the mark on everything our members, new and not so new, need, so if you have questions, comments, or concerns, you can always email me ([email protected]) and I’ll make sure to answer those, and if I can’t put you with the right person who can!

AP Corner - March 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

How I became an Astro Imager

By Ernie Felder

  Several years ago I planned my first imaging trip to Fort Griffin State Historic Site. It is located about 30 minutes north of Albany, Texas. A good six hour drive from Houston.  With a Bortle 2 to 3 sky and very low horizons it's a popular location for amateur astronomers. Away from the regular campsites there are seven astronomy campsites with 30 amp power and water. These sites use dark sky protocols.

  When I left home it was 80 degrees and the typical April rain but the forecast at Fort Griffin called for clearing in the evening and a high pressure area was to build in overnight. The rain quit just as I crossed IH20 at Eastland. To the north I could see blue sky in the distance.

  I arrived at around 4 pm in the afternoon and the temperature had dropped to 55 degrees. My wife and I set up the tent and coffeemaker. At the time I was just starting into DSO imaging. I had an old orange tube Celestron C8, a modded Canon T2i. These were mounted on an old Celestron CG5 that had been roboscoped for goto with Meade Autostar motors and controller. I setup the scope and mount and waited for Polaris to make an appearance.  Then I did my polar alignment and we went into Graham for dinner. Back then the astronomy camping area was very secluded and had a locked gate about a quarter of a mile away. If you had a reservation they would give you the gate code so you could come and go. They changed the code daily. I don't believe they do that anymore.

  When we returned it was very dark. I have to this day never seen such transparency and good seeing at the same time. My first target was M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy. Because of the primitive mount I was limited to 30 second subs. As the subs started downloading I knew I was getting really good data for my jury rigged setup.

The temperature started dropping like a rock. By midnight it was 35 degrees. Target number two was M104 the Sombrero Galaxy.

Messier Column - March 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

By Jim King

M46 M47 M93 M41.PNG

I started this month’s column on 02.14.21: St. Valentine’s Day.  Why? Primarily because my wife has zero interest in going out to eat on a day like this regardless of the occasion.  Of course, you may remember the weather forecast for today and the next several days will be a challenge for Texans in general, but especially for us astronomers…as it has been for the past few weeks.  One of the things that makes our passion a challenge and frequently frustrating, is that the opportunities to do the fun stuff sometimes are few and far-between.  Steve G. just this morning sent out a picture of the all-sky camera at our dark site…already ice-glazed…and the really bad weather has about six more hours to percolate before it arrives here in beautiful downtown Fulshear, Texas.  Time to poke my lip out and pout? 

I think not.

Shallow Sky Object of the Month: Kappa Cas, SAO11256

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2014.


by Bill Pellerin


Kappa Cassiopeiae and its bow shock. Spitzer infrared image (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Object: Kappa Cas
Class: Fast moving Star
Constellation: Cassiopeia
Magnitude: 4.17
Speed: 2,500,000 miles/hr = 694 miles/sec
R.A.: 00 h 33m 00 s
Dec: 62 deg 55 min 54 sec
Size/Spectral: B
Distance: ~3500 ly
Optics needed: Unaided eye

Why this is interesting

This star shows up in the GCVS (the General Catalog of Variable Stars), but it isn’t very variable. AAVSO members have reported the star as dim as 4.25 and as bright as 3.8, but that’s not why it’s interesting.

Challenge Object - March 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

By Stephen Jones


NGC-2818 – Planetary Nebula in Pyxis

RA 09h16m01.5s Dec -36deg 37’37”

Size 93.0”x55.0” Vmag 11.9


This month’s challenge object is another off-the-beaten-path object in the southern skies.  NGC 2818 was discovered by James Dunlop in 1828.  It is a planetary nebula nestled within an open cluster, much like the more famous example of M46 and NGC 2438.  Interestingly, the cluster is not listed in the NGC as a separate object, but simply mentioned in the description of the nebula (“in a large cluster”).  Many atlases list both objects as NGC 2818, or one of them as NGC 2818A, but this is not technically correct.  Oddly, when I observed this object myself I made no note of the cluster at all; this may be because I was using the HAS observatory C14 so I may have been at sufficiently high magnification not to even notice the surrounding cluster as a cluster.  The nebula itself is of the two-lobed type like the Dumbbell Nebula M27, though much more “flattened” in shape. 




Asterisms – “A” Asterism

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

by Steve Goldberg

Asterism: A grouping of stars that form a recognizable pattern.
Constellation: Sextans
Right Ascension: 10 h, 20 m 10s
Declination: 03o 06’ 20”
Magnitude:  10
Size: 15’ (minutes)

This grouping of 5 stars is called the “A Asterism”. It was named by Houston Astronomical Society member Bram Weisman. It is located in Sextans, between Regulus Alpha α in Leo and Alpha α Hydra.


It is located at the “point” of a triangle formed with stars Alpha α and Beta β Sextans.


The letter “A” is very distinctive. The magnification in this view is 48x.

This asterism is recognized by the Astronomical League in their Asterism Observing Program. Information about that AL program can be found here:   Asterism Observing Program

Bram wrote a “discovery” article in the May, 2017 Guidestar. You can see the Guidestar article here.


Field of View - March 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

M is for March and March is for Messier!

By Don Selle

Guidestar Editor

A picture containing outdoor object, star, night skyDescription automatically generated

Image Credit – from Wikipedia - Michael A. Phillips - http://astromaphilli14.blogspot.com.br/p/m.html official blog


Editor’s note – M is also for Mars. Way to go Percy! That’s how you stick a landing!

Well, it was touch and go for a few days in February, but we are finally on the downside of winter in SE Texas. From now until early May when it starts to get warmer, we usually can expect more temperate weather, though perhaps punctuated with a few thunderstorms. No need to get bundled up in three or four layers of clothing to spend some quality time under the stars.

For me, March means the beginning of “galaxy season”. By mid-March, the winter Milky Way is low on the western horizon later in the evening, and the North Galactic Pole (NGP) (located in the constellation Coma Berenices) is well up in the east.

Taking the Dog Stars for a Springtime Walk: Sirius and Procyon

Original article appears in GuideStar February, 2021.

NSN.pngThis 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!


Taking the Dog Stars for a Springtime Walk: Sirius and Procyon

by: David Prosper

March skies feature many dazzling stars and constellations, glimmering high in the night, but two of the brightest stars are the focus of our attention this month: Sirius and Procyon, the dog stars!

Sirius and Procyon.jpgSirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky, in large part because it is one of the closest stars to our solar system at 8.6 light years away. Compared to our Sun, Sirius possesses twice the mass and is much younger. Sirius is estimated to be several hundred million years old, just a fraction of the Sun’s 4.6 billion years. Near Sirius - around the width of a hand with fingers splayed out, held away at arm’s length - you’ll find Procyon, the 8th brightest star in the night sky. Procyon is another one of our Sun’s closest neighbors, though a little farther away than Sirius, 11.5 light years away. While less massive than Sirius, it is much older and unusually luminous for a star of its type, leading astronomers to suspect that it may “soon” – at some point millions of years from now – swell into a giant star as it nears the end of its stellar life.


Sirius and Procyon, the loyal hunting dogs of nearby Orion the Hunter! What other stories can you imagine for these stars?  Learn about “Legends in the Sky” and create your own with this activity: https://bit.ly/legendsinthesky     Image created with assistance from Stellarium.

The Texas 45 Progression - the Challenges

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

by Rene Gedaly

OmegaCentauribySimonTan.pngThe Texas 45 is a homegrown observing program designed to introduce members to some of the beautiful and unusual objects that can be seen from our southern skies. At 30° north latitude, we can spot objects that our northern neighbors travel hundreds of miles to see. Once you've seen globular cluster Omega Centauri, shown in the photo by member Simon Tan, you'll likely put it on your observing calendar to view each year as I do. (Catch it at the dark site due south at fist's height above the treetops in May or June. How did Simon snag a photo in February? By getting up very early in the morning!)

When I wrote the Texas 45 program, the intention was to encourage intermediate and motivated beginning amateurs to get to the dark site; you see, the property was seriously underutilized at the time. Fast forward 9 years and to my delight, many of you who are brand new to the club and to visual astronomy also want to work the program. This is entirely doable if you have a suitable “on-ramp.” It's clear from your questions that you're more than willing to ramp-up and learn what to do.

For instance, a few of you have asked how to find those list objects. With a sky map or phone app, you're able to find the constellation in which the object is located. However, the right ascension (RA) and declination (Dec) coordinates given in the list have confused rather than helped you and the object names are foreign too. If you've gotten help from another observer or are using a GoTo telescope, say, and believe you've spotted the likely location, you are now unsure you're actually seeing the object you are meant to see. Finally, you don't know how to record your observation because the log form does not provide the guidance you need. … 

Challenge Object - February 2021

Original article appears in GuideStar February, 2021.

by Stephen Jones

February Challenge Objects


Vis Chal Feb 2021.png

NGC-2292 – spiral galaxy in Canis Major

RA 06h47m39.3s Dec -26deg 44’47”

Size 3.5’x2.8’ Vmag 11.8


NGC-2293 - spiral galaxy in Canis Major

RA 06h47m43.3s Dec -26deg 45’19”

Size 4.2’x3.3’ Vmag 12.3


NGC-2295 – spiral galaxy in Canis Major

RA 06h47m23.7s Dec -26deg 44’07”

Size 2.1’x0.6’ Vmag 13.6


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