Interest Areas: Education

What’s Up, Houston – September 2018

Posted on September 2, 2018

By Joe Khalaf, Vice President and Outreach Chairperson – Houston Astronomical Society

Welcome to the first edition of What’s Up, Houston. This will be a monthly article to highlight some of the neat things those of us living in the Houston area can see by simply looking up. Some of these items will require “looking up” with binoculars or a telescope for the best views, so if you don’t own either of those, be sure to look for an upcoming outreach event by the Houston Astronomical Society to try and catch a glimpse of what the heavens above have to offer.


Though we’ve passed opposition for Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, September is still a great time to observe these planets during the evening and night times.  For those who don’t know, opposition is when a planet with an orbit further away from the sun than ours (basically, every planet except Mercury and Venus), happens to lie on the opposite side of the sky from the sun.  This also happens to coincide closely to the closest approach that planet has to earth.  Subsequently, these planets appear biggest and brightest around these times.  These three planets, as well as Venus, make for a great set of targets for telescopes and binoculars. 


Looking west/southwest, bright Venus lingers over the horizon for about an hour after sunset, then sets for the rest of the night.  Because Venus is an “inferior” planet (i.e., its orbit lies between the earth’s orbit and the sun), it’s shape often mimics that of the moon – with multiple phases, including thing crescents and “half” Venuses.

Houston, September 7, 2018 @7:00PM

As seen from Houston on September 7, 2018 @ 7:00PM  Image courtesy of Stellarium


Moving to the east, we run across Jupiter – king of the planets.  Even a modest pair of binoculars can reveal up to four Jovian moons, but through a telescope is where Jupiter really shines. Dynamic Jupiter often revels great atmospheric features, including several colors bands and storms, but keep an eye out for any shadows being cast on the upper cloud layers by transiting moons.


Move further east and we run across Saturn.  Through a telescope, we see Saturn’s rings facing us favorably for observations.  The rings always look Those with a big enough telescope and good conditions should be able to see the Cassini Division, a dark line separating the outermost large A ring and the inner B ring.


Lastly, as we move even further east, we see ruddy, orange Mars hanging like a beacon in the night.  This most recent Mars opposition brought the red planet closer to the earth than it’s been since 2003, and it won’t be as close as it was then until the 2035 opposition.

While Mars has certainly shrunk a bit from that opposition back at the end of June, it’s still a great time to go out and observe the planet.  During opposition, a global dust storm engulfed Mars, making it difficult – if not impossible – to see any surface features.  Well, that storm has died down a bit and making out surface features, such as the polar ice caps, Valles Marineris – one of the longest and deepest canyons in the solar system, and Mons Olympus – the tallest volcano in our solar system.

That’s just a small sample of what’s up in Houston this month.  If you get a chance, head outside and look up, or even better, join the Houston Astronomical Society at a public outreach event and take a look through our telescopes.  Until then, may you have clear skies!

Skynet Junior Scholars - A new program for high-school aged kids

Posted on February 3, 2018

The Houston Astronomical Society and Bellaire High School are collaborating on a cool project called “Skynet Junior Scholars” where high-school aged amateur astronomers will be able to remotely control research-grade telescopes and collaborate on research projects.

In Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS), kids study the Universe using the same tools as professional astronomers. With SJS, you get to BE the astronomer. You will feel great when you command a robotic telescope to take a picture of YOUR object!

With just an internet connection, Skynet Junior Scholars gives you:

  • Access to world-class optical and radio telescopes.
  • An image gallery to share pictures and publish results.
  • Communication with astronomers and engineers.

Each meeting, you’ll:

  • Explore the Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe!
  • Earn digital badges as you gain expertise.
  • Collaborate on big projects with other Scholars.
  • Learn astronomy with fun hands-on activities.
  • Design your own investigations!

To learn more about SJS, visit:

Science Hobbyists Needed for a National Study

Posted on December 27, 2012

This may be of interest to some club members:

Are you a science hobbyist? We need your help with a new National Science Foundation sponsored research study that will investigate the characteristics and educational experiences of people who are active in science hobbies. More and more people are engaging in science hobbies; schools and science centers would like to know more about the characteristics of science hobbyists and how these organizations might better support hobbyists’ networking and education.

What will happen if you take part in the study? The information gained from this research can help science educators and researchers understand how to better teach science in schools and museums, and how to design better community-based science programs. Participation in this study is voluntary. Information you provide will be anonymous. If you complete the survey, you may elect to enter a drawing for a $100 Target gift card.

Survey Link:

Dr. Gail Jones
North Carolina State University

The Art and Science of Visual Astronomical Observations

Posted on August 3, 2012

HAS Program Chair and Master Observer Brian Cudnik has graciously made his new eBook available for complimentary download right here on the HAS Website. It's titled "The Art and Science of Visual Astronomical Observations" and it's a great homage to some of the awe-inspiring aspects of observing at the eyepiece. It's also chocked full of practical techniques for observing and suggestions for how visual observers can contribute to the science of astronomy. In Brian's own words...

The purpose of this book is to provide the visual astronomer, especially the beginner, a greater sense of appreciation of each object he or she observes. In addition, I want to instill a greater sense of wonder for the universe as a whole, to discover for oneself one‘s place in the universe and the privilege to be able to contemplate these ideas. Most of the chapters in this book will be divided into two parts, the “art” (named―“appreciation”) section and the “science” (or “application”) section. You may say, “Sure it may be just a ‘white dot’, but consider what is hidden in that ‘white dot’…”; I want to help with the second by discussing the physical nature of the ‘white dot’, I hope to stimulate observers’ interests to keep looking. This is the “art/appreciation” portion of the book, which also seeks to share my own passion for these things. The “science/application” part of the book outlines how amateurs who either cannot afford the sophisticated equipment becoming more widely available, or just prefer to use their own eyes to view celestial objects, can make a contribution to astronomy as a science.

Download “The Art and Science of Visual Astronomical Observations”

More on the Transit of Venus

Posted on June 1, 2012

Jim Wessel of the Johnson Space Center club was kind enough to share this great presentation on the imminent Transit of Venus (June 5th, don't miss it!). You'll need PowerPoint to view this...check it out.

Also, the NASA Space Place Team has posted a fun fact page with 'more about this special kind of eclipse and how to view it safely at the new Venus transit'.

Houston Area Educational Resources

Posted on October 22, 2011

The following colleges and universities offer Astronomy classes for credit:

Blinn College Houston Community College Lone Star College Bill Leach and Aaron Clevenson teach astronomy at Lone Star College. Prairie View A&M will soon offer a course called Astronomy & Geology. HAS member Brian Cudnik will be teaching this course; it will cover astronomy and planetary geology (with some geology basics mixed in). Rice University University of Saint Thomas offers Solar System Astronomy (lecture and lab) and Stellar & Galactic Astronomy (lecture and lab) every semester. HAS member Brian Cudnik teaches this class some semesters. University of Houston

The following institutions also offer Astronomy classes:

The George Observatory Challenger Center (operated by the Houston Museum of Natural Science) Lunar and Planetary Institute

Online Astronomy Coursework

Posted on September 18, 2011

Recently circulated on the HAS Email List, this self-education website contains ~80 videos that cover a variety of topics of interest to the amateur astronomer. Visit the site here:

If you're feeling really ambitious, head over to MIT's OpenCourseware site. This site offers lecture notes, assignments and solutions from numerous MIT courses on Physics and Astronomy.

For other options, visit this blog post from that has links to a dozen different self-education sites

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