The Texas 45 Progression - the Challenges

Original article appears in GuideStar March, 2021.

by Rene Gedaly

OmegaCentauribySimonTan.pngThe Texas 45 is a homegrown observing program designed to introduce members to some of the beautiful and unusual objects that can be seen from our southern skies. At 30° north latitude, we can spot objects that our northern neighbors travel hundreds of miles to see. Once you've seen globular cluster Omega Centauri, shown in the photo by member Simon Tan, you'll likely put it on your observing calendar to view each year as I do. (Catch it at the dark site due south at fist's height above the treetops in May or June. How did Simon snag a photo in February? By getting up very early in the morning!)

When I wrote the Texas 45 program, the intention was to encourage intermediate and motivated beginning amateurs to get to the dark site; you see, the property was seriously underutilized at the time. Fast forward 9 years and to my delight, many of you who are brand new to the club and to visual astronomy also want to work the program. This is entirely doable if you have a suitable “on-ramp.” It's clear from your questions that you're more than willing to ramp-up and learn what to do.

For instance, a few of you have asked how to find those list objects. With a sky map or phone app, you're able to find the constellation in which the object is located. However, the right ascension (RA) and declination (Dec) coordinates given in the list have confused rather than helped you and the object names are foreign too. If you've gotten help from another observer or are using a GoTo telescope, say, and believe you've spotted the likely location, you are now unsure you're actually seeing the object you are meant to see. Finally, you don't know how to record your observation because the log form does not provide the guidance you need. 

Novice observers approach astronomy in many ways. There is tremendous enjoyment in stargazing, for example, especially from rural skies. The Texas 45, however, is for those of you who want to see with your own eyes by your own hands those galaxies, star clusters, and other faint fuzzies that you’ve come across in glossy magazines or websites. I believe we've come up with a good approach that if attempted in a systematic way, will get you the skills you need to progress in your observing, not only for the HAS Texas 45 but for the Astronomical League observing programs in your future.

In this first article, I've laid out why the Texas 45 was originally written and some of the challenges you've reported in attempting it. In next month's article, we'll cover how the more experienced observer locates objects and confirms what they’ve seen. The approach is patterned after the structure of a few of the Astronomical League programs. It's called the HAS Texas 45 Progression and it takes you through the list objects 15 at a time. Next month, April 1st, I'll also be giving the novice presentation on the Texas 45 progression. I hope to see you then.

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