by Stephen Jones
In my personal opinion, the greatest benefit of membership in HAS is the access to our Dark Site. One thing I see so often on astronomy forums is people like us who live in urban areas talking about the things they have to deal with when trying to do astronomy from dark locations.
Things like needing portable power packs, to dealing with critters, local law enforcement, or even yokels with guns. On top of this, many of these people, especially in the Northeast, have to drive for 3+ hours just to get to a site decently dark enough for deep-sky astronomy. How fortunate we are that we don’t have to deal with any of these things.
The HAS Dark Site is an hour or less from parts of the West side of the metro area and no more than 2 hours from the furthest reaches of the East side. It has all of the amenities you need for observing: solid ground to set your scope on, electricity, restrooms, bunkhouses to sleep in, a legal right for you to be there, and no one waving a gun in your face (critters can be a wild card, but they tend to stay away too). There’s even telescopes you can borrow out there. There are also all kinds of great events going on at the Dark Site throughout the year, like the Messier Marathon, Annual Picnic, and other great events put on by Jim King, our Field Trip and Observing Chair, as well as my Novice Lab program.
But there’s also no need to wait for an event to get out there! Remember, your membership gets you 24-7 access to the dark site (with completion of the orientation, of course). If the conditions are good there’s bound to be someone out there. If you’re still worried about being there by yourself, connect with other members! Several folks, including myself, will frequently post to the email server or to the Facebook group when we are heading out there. Feel free to send a post out there yourself if you’re thinking of going.
Also, please note, if there IS an event going on at the site, you’re not required to participate in it just because you’re at the site. The event does not close the site off to folks exercising their right to use it. If you’re not interested in attending my Novice Lab, for example, but you’d prefer to make your first trip to the site on a night when I’m there in case you have any issues, well then go ahead and come on my Novice Lab night and just do your own thing. Nothing wrong with that at all.
If your interest in observing extends beyond the moon and bright planets, dark skies are more important than any piece of equipment in your arsenal. Thanks to the HAS Dark Site, getting those dark skies is a lot cheaper than your equipment too. Get on out there and explore the universe.
Vice President, Houston Astronomical Society
Editor's note: Recent sky quality meter readings at the Dark Site show 21.34 & 21.42; that's Bortle 3. Yes, we still get nights like that so keep your “to go bag” ready with your go-to and get to the dark site.