November – A Great Month for Observing at the Site!
Don Selle – Guidestar Editor
I love November in SE Texas. The weather finally can be relied on to be cool. Between the time change back to CST and the calendar moving closer each day to the Winter Solstice, the nights are getting longer, and astronomy more comfortable. This makes November a great time to head to the HAS dark site in Columbus.
By mid-month, with the change to standard time, the sky is dark by 7:00pm, and a light window is added at 10:00pm. Because of the earlier sunset and better weather, we typically see more members using the site on the weekends closest to the 3rd quarter and new moons. Its possible to get 4 to 5 hours of dark sky observing in before leaving the site at the midnight light window. The cooler weather also makes camping at the site much more attractive and makes an all-nighter a real possibility!
You don’t have to wait for the weekend though to take advantage of the extended darkness that the winter brings. Observing at the dark site in the middle of the week is quite feasible, even for members who must work the next day!
After I joined HAS in the early 2000’s, I was known to do just this. Get to the site after work, set up, get 2-3 hours of dark sky observing in and still get home in town by midnight!
By mid-November, several exceptional galaxies like M31, M33 and M74 present themselves for viewing in the evening, and M81 & M82 are high enough to observe by midnight. Also by midnight, the winter constellation of Orion, with its major eye candy is also high enough in the eastern sky for decent observing, and much of the rest of the winter Milky Way is not far behind!
So make your plans to take advantage of the time change and cooler weather this month. If you are a newer member, and haven’t already done so, make sure that you take the dark site orientation on the HAS website. You will find it at the bottom of this page: https://www.astronomyhouston.org/about/has-observatory Once you pass the 10 question quiz, you will receive the gate combination by a separate email.
Make sure you have a red flashlight, and if you are like me, take a spare red light in case the first one fails! Dress warmly and take extra warm clothes. In the country, you are outside of the Houston heat bubble, and temps are typically at least 10 degrees cooler at the site than they are in town. Bring snacks and hot beverages. On weekend nights we expect will be busy, there will sometimes be hot beverages available near the dob shed.
Due to Covid restrictions, make sure you take a mask with you, and practice social distancing. It is outside, so if you are aware of others around you, the risk will be less than if you were inside. Also due to Covid restrictions, access to the bunkhouses will also be very limited, so you should plan to leave the site during one of the light windows, (10:00pm 12:00am or 2:00am). If you plan to stay the night, you will need to tent camp on the east side of the field near the picnic area, or in your vehicle if it is blacked out (no white light on entry). Alternatively, if getting in you vehicle causes lights to come on, you could get in your vehicle for the night during one of the light windows.
With a little thought and planning, you can have a great night of observing at the dark site this month. Weather permitting – I will be there too. Come by my observatory and say hello!