Interest Areas: Novice

Novice Labs at the Dark Site

Posted on January 28, 2020

New to astronomy and not sure how to get started?  Join HAS’ Stephen Jones at the HAS Dark Site for a hands-on introduction to navigating the night sky and telescope operation.  These Novice Labs are held monthly, except for the months with the late-starting summer nights.  Head to the event calendar here on the website and find one that works for you.  Contact Stephen at [email protected] for more info or to RSVP today!

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!

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”

The Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project

Posted on May 14, 2012

The Nebraska Astronomy Applet Project has several nifty simulators available online. These were created as online labs for introductory astronomy courses and they're great for demonstrating concepts like lunar phase in a fun, interactive way. Check out the Lunar Phase Simulator and much more!

The Faintest Objects Visible to the Naked Eye

Posted on January 22, 2012

Dr. Mike Inglis maintains a site entitled The Faintest Objects Visible to the Naked Eye. Amateur astronomers from around the world have sent in their observations using just their eyes, with no optical aid whatsoever. Mike welcomes observations from other amateur astronomers. Check it out!

How to Collimate a Newtonian Reflector

Posted on November 3, 2011

Collimation can be confusing to the novice; it helps to understand how the process works.Here are few simple guides with step-by-step instructions for collimating your Newtonian reflector telescope.

Andy's Shot Glass Video Tutorial

Nils Olof Carlin's FAQ on Collimations

John Reed's Cheshire Tutorial

Amateur Astronomy Real Science

Posted on March 1, 2009

Download a copy of Bill Pellerin's March 2009 presentation: "Amateur Astronomy Real Science" (Download PDF File)

Amateur Astronomer's Career

Posted on March 1, 2009

Download a copy of Bill Pellerin's March 2009 presentation: "Amateur Astronomer's Career" (Download PDF File)

Celestial Coordinate Systems

Posted on February 3, 2009

Download a copy of Justin McCollum's February 2009 presentation: "Celestial Coordinate Systems" (Download PDF File)

Getting the Most Out of Your Observing Session

Posted on December 1, 2006

Download a copy of Bill Pellerin's November 2006 presentation: "Getting the Most Out of Your Observing Session" (Download PDF File)
And a companion document: "Sample Texas Star Party Checklist" (Download PDF File)

Coordinate Systems

Posted on May 1, 2006

Download a copy of Ed Preston's May 2006 presentation: "Coordinate Systems" (Download PDF File)

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