April, 2015

Volume XV, Number 4

This Month's  remaining events

April 18-- 6 P.M. Impromptu Social Get-Together at Mo's BarBeQue, 8321 FM 1960, Humble, Tx

April 24 -- General Meeting, Kingwood College

Next Month's Events

May 1 -- Insperity Observatory Public Night

May 16 -- BarBeQue  Star Party (rescheduled from April), O'Brien Dark Site

May 22-- General Meeting, Kingwood College


April 24, 2015

Novice Program

 6:30 - 7:15pm in the Cosmic Forum, upstairs in the CLA building.

Subject:  Binocular Objects, presented by Dr William Leach, Lone Star College, Kingwood Campus


General Meeting

 7:30 P.M., Kingwood College Lecture Hall

Year of the Dwarfs: Pluto and Ceres, presented by Dr. Paul Schenk.  Dr.  Schenk is a planetary geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Clear Lake area.

"What's Up Doc?" by Dr. Aaron Clevenson for the month of March will be posted on the NHAC Website.


 1.  Once again the weather has stymied our observational efforts.  Our April BarBeQue Star Party has been weathered out.  It is rescheduled for May 16, still planned to be a BarBeQue Star Party.

In the meantime, we insist on enjoying ourselves with like-minded Astronomers, regardless of the weather.  We plan to get together Saturday afternoon, April 18, at 6 P.M. to enjoy Mo's BarBeQue at 8321 FM 1960, about 2 miles west of Highway 59, on the north side of the highway.


Y'All come and enjoy a dinner with armchair astronomy, but no agenda or speaker, and no need to set up telescopes unless you just absolutely must.


This is not part of the NHAC budget, so please do bring your own credit card or recently printed cash.


Please do come!  This could develop into a good tradition.


2.  The NHAC officers for 2015 are:

President --                               Aaron Clevenson

Vice-President--                        Bruce Pollard

Secretary--                               Susan Pollard

Treasurer--                               David Lambert

Newsletter Editor--                    Rusty Hill

Astronomical League Coord.--    James Barbasso

Webmaster--                             Justin McCollum

Observation Committee Chair-- James Billings

Membership Committee Chair-- David Tomlin

     Co-Chairman--                     Stuart Davenport

Program Committee Chair--      Todd Sullivan


3.  Our Astronomical League Coordinator is Jim Barbasso.  The Astronomical League website is http://www.astroleague.org/

This month's Alcor report, Jim Barbasso:


Message from AlCor

This time of year the changing weather patterns can present quite a challenge.  Unfortunately, our club Messier Marathon became a victim of the Houston weather, in March and did not take place.    Several astronomical events are coming up over the next few months this year.  Weather permitting.


There will be a total lunar eclipse in April, after the newsletter is sent, but it is still worth mentioning.  Four such events will occur this year.  Also, on August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse is expected across the central portion of the U.S.


In preparation for this rare event happening over the U.S mainland, the Astronomical League is selling solar eclipse glasses.  Please be aware that viewing a solar eclipse, naked eye viewing is extremely dangerous to your vision.  You need reliable and safe eye protection to view the event.  These “glasses” are somewhat flimsy.  Use your own judgment, if you are planning to use glasses such as these.  Your vision depends on it.  (In the interest of space, in the newsletter, not astronomical, visit this link: https://www.astroleague.org/files/u28/Eclipse%20glasses%20promoL.pdf
Do note they have ordered all they are going to order.  If you are interested, order early.)


On another note, I stumbled upon an interesting and compelling article that I wanted to share.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I read it.  The discussion was on the reduced albedo on Mercury and a possible cause.  Comets contain volatile substances, which vaporize as the object approaches close enough to the sun.  CO2 is one of these substances.  Under ambient conditions on earth, CO2 is a fairly unreactive molecule.  This is because CO2 is very stable.  However, under certain conditions CO2 will sublime and become unstable.  In other words, the carbon and or oxygen become ionized or assume a surface charge.  The molecular becomes reactive and can bond with its self or other materials to form different molecules.  In the case of comets approaching Mercury, CO2 is vaporized (sublimated) and becomes reactive-ionized.   Ultimately, this lends itself to forming carbonatious materials or substances which contain long chains/rings of carbon compounds or carbon itself.  When this occurs near Mercury, some of this material will fall onto the plant’s surface, forming a dusty layer.  It is hypothesized, this dusty material lowers the albedo or surface brightness of the planet.  If this cause and effect is true, other bodies in the solar system may be affected in a similar manner.  Iapetus is such an object that comes to mind.  It is a much darker moon-lower albedo, than the other moons of Saturn.


Clears Skies,



4.  Name Badges: For all members, please remember to pick up your Name Badge before the meeting, wear it, and return it after this meeting so you will still have a name tag at the next meeting.  We do not want any members to be nameless.

5.  2015 Remaining General Meeting Schedule:

May 22

June 26

July 24

August 28

September 25

October 23

November 20

December 18

6. 2015 Remaining Executive Board Meeting Schedule:

April Special meeting 7:00P.M.

May 13

July 8

September 9

November 11

7.  I am trying something new.  Each month I will include something of a pure science nature, or as in this case, something from the world of astronomy which is of a "current affairs" nature.  This month it is an article concerning the impending crash of Messenger into Mercury, expected to occur on April 30. 2015:

After more than four years of orbiting Mercury, NASA’s Messenger spacecraft is about to end its mission with a bang. After more than 4,100 orbits around the closest planet to the sun, the satellite will crash into Mercury’s crater-pocked surface April 30.

NASA officials gave tribute in a briefing Thursday to the Messenger spacecraft, which was the first to orbit Mercury and which they say has fundamentally altered our understanding of this scorched little world.  

“The spacecraft and the instruments have worked virtually flawlessly over those four years,” said James Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

Launched in August 2004, the spacecraft has revealed many unexpected insights about that "first rock from the sun": that, even within scorching distance, it has reserves of polar ice holding frozen water; that organic matter also coats protected areas near the poles; and that the tiny planet has a strong but lopsided magnetic field.

Mercury is among the least-studied planets in our solar system. Messenger was the first mission since the Mariner 10's final flyby in 1975 to study this little planet up close.

With so little previously known about Mercury, Messenger has opened up a trove of new information – and several surprises – in its three flybys and four years of orbiting the planet, said Sean Solomon, the mission’s principal investigator and director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York.   

Solomon put together a top-10 list of greatest discoveries made possible by Messenger. Among them: that the planet has an exceedingly thin atmosphere that changes with the seasons – and that sometimes trails behind the planet in a comet-like tail; that Mercury has shrunk by as much as 7 kilometers in radius; and that volcanism played a major role in shaping the planet’s surface. There are even different types of volcanic material on the surface that probably came from different reservoirs in the planet, he added.

“We have a record, if only we could read it – and we’re working on that now,” Solomon said.  

The most important of the discoveries, he said, tops his list: that Mercury was surprisingly high in volatile elements, including potassium, sulfur, sodium and chlorine. Scientists had not expected this planet to be so high in these elements, which are thought to be among the first to escape a planet, particularly when it's so close to the sun.

“It allows us to reject most of the ideas for how Mercury was assembled as a planet at the beginning of the history of the solar system,” Solomon said.

The most interesting, he said, was probably the second on his list – that the spacecraft was able to confirm the presence of polar water ice in permanently shadowed regions at the bottoms of craters.

“Those polar regions, I think, are calling out to people like Jim Green and saying, ‘Send us another spacecraft, we have more stories to tell,’” Solomon said, eliciting laughter from Green and others.

Green said that as a magnetosphere physicist, he was fascinated by Mercury’s lopsided magnetic field.

“I really enjoyed the magnetic field topologies ... how does that really happen inside a planet?” Green said.

However, Messenger has only so much fuel, mission engineers pointed out.

“At the end of this month … we will lose our battle with solar gravity,” said Messenger's project manager Helene Winters of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. It will crash into the surface at about 8,700 mph, she added.

Messenger, loyal to the last, will send back data until minutes before its crash, said mission systems engineer Daniel O’Shaughnessy of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Data already sent back by the spacecraft will continue to be analyzed in the years to come, Solomon said.

Even in death, Messenger will prove useful. On impact, the spacecraft will make a roughly 52-foot-wide crater, a planetary scar whose characteristics may be useful for study by future spacecraft. More are coming: The joint ESA/JAXA mission BepiColombo is set to arrive at Mercury in 2024.

Attribution: Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2015,

Courtesy of William Kowalczyk, NASA

Star Party May 16!

April 18, 2015 is cancelled.
It will be replaced by adding a BBQ Event to our regularly scheduled May 16 Star Party.

Sunset will be  8:11P.M.

Moonset will be  earlier, at 6:48P.M.

For any who wish to observe on a night without a moon, notice the Saturday night/Sunday morning moonset is 86:48P.M., give or take rounding errors.  It will be a really moonless night and should be good observing, weather permitting. 

Club Policy is that the focus of the Star Parties will be to give as much assistance as possible to new observers.

For those who may not have been to the O'Brien Dark Site, it is just north of Dobbin, which is on Highway 105 west of Montgomery.  It has reasonably dark skies, and a great low horizon in all directions.  The Owners, Tim and Wanda O'Brien are very generous hosts, and they do turn off any outside lights which might bother us, if we remember to ask.

The actual Dark Site location is password protected.  Any club officer can give you the password, but it is NOT FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

On our NHAC web site, click on "Observing" then select "O'Brien Dark Site".  Scroll down to the O'Brien Dark Site information and look for the "detailed directions" link.  You will need to enter the password.  There are maps as well as directions.  It is well worth the drive, which is about 6 or 7 minutes after you leave Dobbin going north.

Star Parties are routinely scheduled for the Saturday on or just before the New Moon throughout the year.  This is to provide the best opportunity for dark skies.

For planning, I am starting a practice of showing the information for the following month, due to the New Moon occurring a bit earlier each month, and the Star Parties being a week or two before the General Meeting.For February 14, there is a Star Party and combined Bar-Be-Que.  Sunset will be 6:11 P.M., and Moon Rise will not be until 3:00 A.M.



2015 Remaining Star Party Schedule

May 16

June 13

July 11

August 15

September 12  BBQ

October 10

November 7  BBQ

December 12

NHAC is a proud member of:

Astronomical League/NASA Night Sky Network/International Dark-Sky Association

2015 Public Night

May 1, 2015.

Sunset will be at 7:58  P.M.

Doors will open at 7:45 P.M. or so and remain open to the public until 10:00 P.M.


These Public Nights are a tremendous opportunity for us to be a part of Astronomy Outreach, and also to observe with scopes we might never get to use, otherwise.  The Observatory has a 16" and a 20" telescope, each computer controlled, which provide awesome views of the sky.  There are typically 30 or 40 guests at the Public Night, several repeating, who are very appreciative of the opportunity to expose their kids to Astronomy, and who enjoy the observing in their own experience, as well.  And then after all our guests have departed, several of us usually stay for a while and enjoy the views.  I (Rusty) have seen more detail on Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn from the Insperity Observatory than at any other time or place.

The Observatory is about 3/4 of a mile south of Will Clayton Parkway on S. Houston Ave, just north of Rankin Road in Humble, in the back part of the Jack Fields Elementary School on the East side of S. Houston Ave.  For information, see the web site.


*Dates and times are subject to change.

The Insperity Observatory at Jack Fields Elementary School, 2505 S. Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77396


Rusty's Ramblings

Hello, Everyone:

Being an astronomer continues to be frustrating this winter/spring.  But for a Gala Event, I hope you are planning to attend our First Ever, Inaugural, Impromptu Get Together tomorrow (4/18, Saturday) evening, 6P.M., at Mo's Barbeque in Humble.  It is located at 8321 FM 1960, about 2 miles west of Highway 59, on the north side of 1960.  Please do join us.  Spouses and other family members or guests are welcome.  The NHAC budget is not big enough for this shindig, so do bring your own credit card.

I am going to leave last month's Ramblings up for this month also.  The Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017, is a unique enough event to warrant extra Hoopla.  And it will require significant preplanning to travel and be in position.  The path of totality will stretch almost in a straight line from South Carolina to the Northwest through Nebraska to Oregon on the West Coast. (Well north of Texas, in other words.)  You can see it, but you need to make travel plans.  The eclipse will be during mid-day in the US, so it will be well situated with good timing for us to see it.  Check this link, as well as others: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2017Aug21Tgoogle.html

or simply google <2017 solar eclipse>

I am going to try to find out what areas of the country are the most likely to have good weather in August, and start figuring travel plans.  (Sorry, I haven't done this homework yet.)  For something of this rare nature, I may just buy some sort of a (used) travel trailer so I can decide at the last minute where I want to be.  I believe equipment can be minimal:  A small "regular" scope with a GOOD QUALITY solar filter for a basic setup.  Yes, I am yelling: GOOD QUALITY solar filter.  Don't take chances.  And I might acquire a Coronado PST with the Hydrogen Alpha filter.  My thought now is to set up the Hydrogen Alpha to take a sequence of pictures, and use the simple scope and GOOD QUALITY solar filter to watch it with.

Did I mention the filter should be GOOD QUALITY?

I hope to see you at our Gala Event on Saturday 4/18.  And I expect to see you at the meeting on Friday 4/24.

Clear Skies, All,


The North Houston Astronomy Club (NHAC), was formed for educational and scientific purposes, for people of all races, creeds, ethnic backgrounds and sex, for the primary purpose of developing and implementing programs designed to increase the awareness and knowledge of astronomy, especially for those living near the north side of Houston Texas.
NHAC is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the opportunity for all individuals to pursue the science of astronomy, by observing in a dark-sky site, learning the latest technology, and sharing their knowledge and experience. Thus, our “Observe-Learn-Share” motto.

North Houston Astronomy Club is Sponsored by:

 Membership Benefits

Discounts on Purchases at Land, Sea and Sky.  Be sure to identiry yourself as an NHAC member.

Loaner Telescopes after being a member for 6 months.

Opportunity to observe from Dark Sky Observing Sites.

Learn from Experienced Observers.

Astronomy Magazine subscriptions at a discount.

Membership in the Astronomical League, with multiple Observing Clubs available.

Included subscription to the Astronomical League magazine "Reflector".

Access to the NHAC Library

Observe - Learn - Share

The North Houston Astronomy Club is a not-for-profit organization sponsored by Lone Star College-Kingwood, dedicated to increasing the awareness and knowledge of the science of astronomy. Public meetings are held each month on the fourth Friday.