Letter from the President - April 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

moon-4671091_960_720.jpgWe've all heard it by now - the impact to our daily lives in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and historic in our lifetimes. The recent outbreak has altered life for much of the world, and as I type this letter, I am self-quarantining at home while recovering from a suspected case of COVID-19. Thankfully, I'm doing well and am on the road to recovery, and my symptoms are much more mild than what others are dealing with.

While this pandemic has brought unique challenges to the way we do even the most mundane tasks in our lives, we live in a unique period in time where we can be connected practically anyone we wish, even while practicing social distancing.  Technology allows us to conduct meetings, host video chats, and even collaborate on all sorts of things, without ever having to leave the comfort of our own homes.  Many of us are working from home and doing practically everything we could from the office, and, in many cases, are even more productive than when in the workplace.  But all of this is so that we can try to flatten the curve of infection, and the Houston Astronomical Society is doing its part to help out by canceling our in-person gatherings until further notice...

But while we all follow the instructions to shelter in place and not have meetings of any substantial size, that doesn’t mean we still can’t come together as a community of astronomy enthusiasts and continue to learn about the heavens above.  We’ve decided that, instead of canceling the April meeting we would normally have at the Mendenhall Center, we’ll instead bring the meeting to our members in their homes.  We will leverage online meeting technology (using Zoom) to hear our guest speaker, Vince Estrada-Carpenter, give his presentation.  Vince is a 5th-year  Astronomy PhD candidate at Texas A&M University whose area of research is galaxy evolution.  Vince is focusing his research on the properties of massive galaxies in the early universe, and he uses a very specific type of data to learn more about these early behemoths. 

We will continue to monitor the situation, and if need be, bring more of our meetings to us until it is safe to conduct our normal meetings at the Mendenhall Center.  We hope that it won't be too long before we can resume our normal meetings and get a chance to say hello to one another in person, but we'll err on the side of caution and make sure we do so when it is safe.  Until then, we'll continue to engage with our members through our website, social media platforms, and through online meeting tools.

However, as most of us who have been in the hobby for some time can attest to, astronomy is one of the activities that you can enjoy without having to be near other people.  While the camaraderie of observing with others certainly make it more fun, I encourage you to continue to observe (in a safe way) when time permits while we wait for things to get back to normal.  Additionally, our dark site is still open for business, as it is entirely possible to enjoy the facilities out there while practicing safe social distancing.  So use your telescopes and binoculars when you can, and take a crack at starting a new observing program from the Astronomical League during this time.  Just make sure to still maintain a proper amount of space between you and others, and, as much as I like sharing views through my eyepiece with others, it’s a good idea to hold off on doing so for now.

I look forward to seeing you all - virtually - at our April meeting, and hope that it won't be too long before I can say hello to you in person again.  Until then, stay safe and enjoy the heavens above!

Clear skies,

Joe Khalaf

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