By Don Selle
The year 2020 will be remembered for many things, most of them unpleasant, but against the odds it has actually been a good year for amateur astronomy in general and HAS in particular. Despite the shadow of the pandemic and for a myriad of reasons, public interest in astronomy surged as did membership in HAS.
Perhaps it was the extra time at home and the encouragement we received to spend the time to improve ourselves that did it. Perhaps it was the widespread interest this summer in the NASA Mars Perseverance mission launch and the opposition of the red planet that was the inspiration. It might have been the appearance of the beautiful, naked eye, once-in-a-decade comet NEOWISE, though past generations considered such comets a bad omen (come to think of it, this fall was pretty stressful!).
Whatever the encouragement, you joined HAS in record numbers this year, or if you were already a member, you increased your engagement with our great hobby. If the increased sales of astronomy equipment are good indicators, overall interest in amateur astronomy has also surged! This has been one of the unexpected positive outcomes of the pandemic, revitalizing a hobby that has been steadily greying over the years.
And if the new members of HAS are any indication, interest in astrophotography (AP) is on the rise. We have had more AP discussions on the HAS listserv than ever before. And on a recent third quarter moon weekend, the number of astrophotographers equaled (or slightly eclipsed) the number of visual observers.
As a result, we are seeing a shift in emphasis within HAS to be more inclusive and responsive to our astrophotographers. For example, this issue of the Guidestar includes the second appearance of AP Corner, which features AP topics which answer questions from or address subjects of interest to our newer members. If you are considering the purchase of a new telescope and might be interested in AP, please check out this month’s AP corner, it will be well worth your time spent.
Additionally, you will be seeing more presentations at our regular meetings that will be of interest to astrophotographers of every experience level. At our upcoming meeting on December 4th, six HAS astrophotographers will show and tell about their work. And on January 8th, HAS will host Robbin Jones, a member of the Astronomy Club of Tulsa, who will present Electronic Assisted Astronomy. This technique uses highly sensitive cameras on your telescope to increase the number of objects you can observe from light polluted skies. Stay tuned as we will likely have other AP oriented presentations, including one on shooting nightscapes.
While we are on the subject of astrophotography, it is important that we also recognize and congratulate HAS member Sheldon Faworski, who was part of a Pro-Am astronomy team which discovered and characterized a Super Nova Remnant SNR located in the Constellation Cepheus at coordinates RA (J2000) = 22h00m25s, Dec (J2000) = 66○26′ .
Their discovery paper, published on 11 September, 2020, is included in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 498, Issue 4, November 2020, and can be viewed here: https://tinyurl.com/yxs2sp32 . Based on their analysis, the SNR is 90 to 110 thousand years old and lies about 5,000 to 6,600 light years from Earth and is about 825 to 990 light years above the Galactic Plane.
The original discovery images were captured by the MDW Hydrogen-Alpha Survey in November 2017. The MDW survey is located at New Mexico Skies remote observatories and is run by advanced amateur astronomers using imaging system equipment and software that is commercially available to amateurs https://www.mdwskysurvey.org/. This is a great example of how learning the basics of astrophotography and applying the right techniques and continuous improvement can lead to impressive and scientifically useful images. Congratulations Sheldon!
Finally, I would like to direct your attention to December’s Messier column by Jim King. It is devoted to the once in a lifetime conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which takes place early in the evening of December 21 which also happens to be on the same day as the 2020 Winter Solstice.
Jim gives us some great advice for planning and executing your observation of the conjunction. Weather permitting, I hope that you take in this unique event. I for one will be set up and attempting to image it myself. If you are successful in your observation or imaging, please make sure you share it with other HAS members on our Facebook Group, and on our Gaggle mail listserv!
Like the apparition of a visible comet, previous generations have believed that a similar conjunction that occurred about 2,000 years ago heralded a great and hopeful event. Let’s hope that this one, at least, ushers in a brighter and more hopeful 2021!