November 2022

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Buying a Telescope for Christmas – Some Observations and Tips

by Will Sager

It’s that time of year again. The Halloween candy has been consumed, the turkey is gone, and the mall is playing Christmas carols (endlessly). Once again many people will think that purchasing a telescope as a Christmas gift for a budding astronomer would be the perfect thing. If you are in this group of well-meaning people, we are going to have a tough conversation here and my goal is to strip away the gauzy rose-colored filter from your blurred vision. There are myriad ways to mess this up and plenty of retailers who would love to take your money. But do not despair, I know many amateur astronomers in this very organization whose love of astronomy started in just this way (myself included). 

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An example of a high power telescope ad from 1952. Criterion actually made some good telescopes in the 1960s and 1970s, but this was probably not one of them.

I have started and restarted this article several times because it rapidly bogs down in telescope details. What makes a good telescope? How do you recognize one that is not? Let me start by repurposing an old saying: there are good telescopes and there are cheap telescopes, but there are no good cheap telescopes. Of course, this depends on your definition of “good” and “cheap”. Start this debate at a star party and it will provide amusement for hours. The motivation here is that nobody (except cheap telescope sellers) wants you to buy a “hobby killer”: a telescope so frustrating that it kills your neophyte’s interest before it can bloom. There are so many variables in this quest that it is difficult to give foolproof suggestions. I will try to give some perspectives based on many years of looking through telescopes, but your mileage may vary.

 

Field Trip & Observing: Looking up

ReneGSheadshot60x60.pngRene Gedaly
Field Trip & Observing
Houston Astronomical Society

HAS field trip to the George Observatory  

Review of 2022. We were so ready to get out and observe this year. Socialize, too. The FT&O year kicked off with a Messier Marathon, we traveled solo to the Texas Star Party but met up for coffee and ice cream, we took a field trip to the George Observatory and camped overnight at Brazos Bend SP, and we signed up for the annual picnic in numbers exceeding those of a major star party. 

Do we rinse and repeat for 2023? Maybe. What worked? What needs tweaking? The club enjoyed the field trip to the George; 113 of us bought tickets. Far fewer were ready to camp overnight in the summer. The Messier Marathon was a hit, twice. That is, we got bumped in March for weather but luckily had a good showing in April. We chatted with HASers at TSP that we hadn’t yet met in Houston. And our special interest groups, the SIGs, were out in force on the observing field. That is, depending on the weather. November weather also put the kibosh on what would’ve been a truly epic annual gathering.

Let’s regroup. A lot of prep work has already been done by FT&O and the SIGs and is in safe keeping. We can republish resources to the website and dust off workshops, observing lists, and show and tells. The picnic area and Dob Shed are cleaned, stocked, and ready to go. We know how to do this. We just need the weather to cooperate.

What if we chucked the calendar? Many of us have a “grab and go” astro bag ready with essentials for whenever the weather looks promising. Can we do the same for field trips to the dark site? I think we can. More in the January 2023 Looking Up.

Binoculars: A Great First Telescope

by David Prosper

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Do you want to peer deeper into the night sky? Are you feeling the urge to buy a telescope? There are so many options for budding astronomers that choosing one can be overwhelming. A first telescope should be easy to use and provide good quality views while being affordable. As it turns out, those requirements make the first telescope of choice for many stargazers something unexpected: a good pair of binoculars!

The Ryan Observatory

by Daniel M. Roy and Debbie Moran

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These shielded LEDs in a restaurant garden in Las Cruces, NM are warmer and put light exactly where it is needed

Imagine an electricity generating company building an observatory, encouraging STEM education within the community as well as heightening the community’s interest in limiting light pollution.    This is what the Exelon Corporation (now Constellation Energy) did in 2016 by building an observatory in the Muddy Run Recreational Park in southeastern Pennsylvania at a goldilocks distance from Lancaster.   To quote from a 2020 edition of 50+ life, “This part of southern Lancaster County lies in truly dark skies, away from the light pollution of much of the surrounding area. But it is sufficiently close to Lancaster to attract a curious public.   It is by far one of the most innovative and well thought-out and technologically sophisticated projects of its type in Pennsylvania.”

Asterisms - Rocket Ship

By: Steve Goldberg

 

In honor of the Artemis 1 mission, we feature an asterism that looks like a rocket ship. This asterism, sometimes labeled as an open cluster, is located in Pisces, near the border with Aquarius.

 

Electronically Assisted Astronomy at the Picnic & Star Party

EAASIG.png If you are interested in learning what an EAA setup looks like and the steps needed to start an EAA session, join the EAA SIG site around 17:20 during the HAS Annual Picnic & Star Party! We will cover both hardware and software setup, polar alignment, slewing to a target and plate solving, live stacking and more. Questions are welcome and we will be doing EAA live during the night! — Carlos Arieu, EAA SIG

Binocular tour of the Autumn Skies at the Picnic & Star Party

BINOSIG.pngIf you are new to astronomy, this program is for you. Meet me on the observing field for a binocular and naked eye tour of some of the prettiest, easiest to spot objects of the autumn sky. We will see as many as 15 star clusters, galaxies, unique constellations, and the rarely seen, ninth brightest star, all in a single night. If you find 5, the VSIG coordinator will award you a Novice certificate! See VSIG below. So bring your binoculars and meet me at the BINO SIG sign. Be sure to visit the other SIGs on the field, too, and discover what else amateur astronomy has to offer — Rene Gedaly, Field Trip & Observing

Note: These objects are part of the club’s homegrown observing program, the HAS Texas 45. I’ll have printed logs to get you started.

VSIG observing lists, award certificates, at the Picnic & Star Party

VSIG.pngHello Observers! The HAS Annual Picnic is fast approaching. Allow me to present the official visual observing program for the picnic, sponsored by the HAS Visual Observing Special Interest Group (VSIG). There are three levels of award available: novice, intermediate, and advanced. Observations MUST be done at the picnic to qualify. Send your logs to [email protected] for me to review. Lists and details are available by clicking the Annual Picnic & Star Party link on the Programs page. —Stephen Jones, VSIG coordinator

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