August, 2015

Volume XV, Number 8

This Month's  remaining events

August 28-- General Meeting, Lone Star College

Kingwood Campus

Next Month's Events

September 4 -- Insperity Observatory Public Night

September 12 --  BarBQ Star Party, O'Brien Dark Site

September 25 -- General Meeting, Lone Star College,

Kingwood Campus


 August 28, 2015

Novice Program

 6:30 - 7:15pm in the Cosmic Forum, upstairs in the CLA building, Lone Star College, Kingwood Campus.


A novice's take on Spectroscopy

Presented by:

Rusty Hill


General Meeting

 7:30 P.M., Lone Star College, Kingwood Campus,

CLA Lecture Hall



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


1.  Please make a note:  The General Meeting for October has been changed to October 16 to avoid conflict with A-Day.


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.  Jim's feature of the month is about the dwarf planet Pluto:

 This time of year observing can be difficult due to the humid nights.  My eyepiece gets saturated with dew.  I have a dew heater, but a more robust battery is definitely in order for me!  The summer provides a great opportunity to see a large variety of objects; in particular the area around Sagittarius, M31 in Hercules and Pluto to name a few.  Pluto itself is not a visually pleasing object, so why do I mention it?  Because it is a challenging object to capture.  Seeing it is a real accomplishment.  It is also one of several dwarf planets in our solar system. Not too long ago, Pluto was considered a planet, since its discovery by the American Astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh in in February `8, 1930.  Also, for me, it is exciting just to see it, faint as it is.  In fact, Pluto looks just like any faint star in the sky-a white dot (angular diameter range 0.03” to 0.11”).

 About nine years ago (January 19, 2006), NASA launched the “New Horizons” spacecraft.  One of its objectives was to make a close fly-by of Pluto (within 6,200 mi.), to gather data on the enigmatic object.   On July 14, 2015, “New Horizons” achieved that objective and continued on, towards the Kuiper belt, and beyond.  Pluto ‘s average distance from the sun is about 3.67 billion miles.  At that distance Pluto receives very little energy from the sun.   The surface temperature 33 o K to 55 o K (-240 o C to -215 o C).  The apparent magnitude ranges from 13.65 to 16.3; now it is at ~14. The atmosphere has a surface pressure range of 0.30 Pa to 1.0 Pa with a composition of Nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide.  Our atmospheric pressure is ~101.3 KPa, so Pluto has very low pressure relative to us.  The rotation period is 6d, 9h, 17min, 36 sec (sidereal period).   Pluto’s radius is now known to be 1186 km (0.18 Earths).  Orbital period is 247.94 yrs.   Pluto has 5 known satellites (Charon, Nix, Kerberos, Styx, and Hydra).  Pluto is named after the Roman God of the Underworld with its moons named after mythological beings associated with Pluto and the Underworld.

What have we learned about Pluto from “New Horizons”, so far?  Pluto has an atmospheric “haze” ~80 mi.  thick consisting of two distinct layers, one at 30 mi. above the surface, and the other at  50 mi.  According to NASA’s models, the haze is caused by ultraviolet radiation from the Sun interacting with methane gas.   Methane radicals form and interact with other molecules, such as ethylene and acetylene.  As these more complex molecules sink downward to the lower, colder layers of the Pluto atmosphere, they condense into ice particles that produce the haze.  Eventually, this hydrocarbon haze is converted to tholins, which form complex, heavy, molecules that cause a reddish haze in the atmosphere and condense on the Pluto surface.  “New Horizons” has detected the reddish haze.  Images revealed evidence glacial activity either past, present, or both.  New Horizon's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) helped to confirm these observations.

Pluto is larger than expected (2368 km estimated in 2014, but now known to be 2372 km) in diameter.  There is evidence of an internal ocean.  In addition to methane gas as mentioned above, Pluto also has nitrogen and carbon monoxide ice, acetylene, and ethylene.  One of its moons, Charon has evidence of ammonia and water, which raises the question as to why these two bodies differ.  Mountains than may contain water ice are present on Pluto.  A craterless plain with frozen cracks has been observed.   Some of these cracks have darker material in them others are surrounded by hilly features.  These features may suggest a geologic process may have formed these features and may still be at work.

If you have not seen Pluto and you have a telescope that can observe a 14th magnitude object, make the attempt to see it.   Even though it has a humble appearance, it has a story to tell us about our solar system.

Clear Skies, as always,


The Astronomical League URL is:


4. 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:

August 28

September 25

October 16

November 20

December 18

6. 2015 Remaining Executive Board Meeting Schedule:

September 9

November 11

7.  I am continuing with the feature of an article 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's article is taken from Earth Sky News, August 18, 2015.

EarthSky // Science Wire, Space Release Date: Aug 17, 2015

Astronomers discover ‘young Jupiter’ exoplanet

A team of astronomers has discovered a planet outside our solar system, 100 light-years away, that resembles a young Jupiter.

An artist’s conception of the Jupiter-like exoplanet 51 Eridani b, seen in the near-infrared light that shows the hot layers deep in its atmosphere glowing through clouds. Image credit: Danielle Futselaar and Franck Marchis/SETI Institute

An international team of astronomers has discovered an exoplanet 100 light years away that shares many of the characteristics of a young Jupiter. The work appears in the August 13 online edition of Science.

The exoplanet – a planet outside our solar system – is called 51 Eridani b. It is only 20 million years old — a mere infant by astronomy standards. (Jupiter, the sun and Earth are all about 4.5 billion years old.)

It is the first planet detected by the Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, which was designed to discover and analyze faint, young planets orbiting bright, nearby stars.

GPI’s highly advanced spectrometer revealed that the planet has the strongest concentration of methane ever detected on a planet outside the Milky Way — as well as the presence of water — which indicates that it’s similar to planets in our solar system and should yield additional clues about how the planet formed.

The newly discovered planet orbits a little farther from its parent star than Saturn does from the sun. It is roughly twice the mass of Jupiter. Until now, the gas giant planets that have been directly detected have been much larger — five to 13 times Jupiter’s mass, said the researchers.

The scientists reported that 51 Eridani b has a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt lead, but still rather cold compared with other gas giants, which reach temperatures above 1,000 degrees. Previous Jupiter-like exoplanets have shown only faint traces of methane, far different from the heavy methane atmospheres of the gas giants in our solar system.

Astronomers believe that the gas giants in our solar system formed by building up a large core over a few million years and then pulling in a huge amount of hydrogen and other gasses to form an atmosphere. But the Jupiter-like exoplanets that have been discovered so far are much hotter than models have predicted, hinting that they could have formed much faster as material collapses quickly to make a very hot planet. The core-buildup process can also form rocky planets like the Earth, while the process of fast-collapsing materials might make only giant gas planets, the researchers said. 51 Eridani b is young enough to reveal clues about how it was created.

The project’s lead investigator is Bruce Macintosh, a professor of physics at Stanford University’s Kavli Institute. Macintosh said:

This planet really could have formed the same way Jupiter did; the whole solar system could be a lot like ours.

There are hundreds of planets a little bigger than Earth, but so far no way to know if they are “super-Earths,” or micro-sized gas and ice planets like Neptune, or something different altogether, he said.

GPI was installed on the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope in Chile in 2013, and its science operation began in 2014. The GPI team has studied almost 100 stars already.James Graham is a University of California Berkeley professor and GPI’s project scientist. Graham said:

This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI.

Bottom line: An international team of astronomers has discovered an exoplanet 100 light years away that shares many of the characteristics of a young Jupiter. The work was published in Science on August 13, 2015.


8.  I am moving the URL for the 2017 Solar Eclipse here to the Notes section for ease of access.  I will keep it here through the August, 2017, Newsletter.

 August 2017 Solar Eclipse URL:

or simply google <2017 solar eclipse>

Star Party and BarBQ, September 12!

Sunset will be 7:33 P.M.

Moonset will be 7:15 P.M., shortly before sunset.  The evening should  be nice and dark, give or take a light dome or two, and starting to get cooler.  We are getting into the nice time of the year for observing.  Make plans to come out in the late afternoon to enjoy the BarBQ and socialising, followed by observing.

If you are new to the club, do come out and join us.  You, the members, are the reason we have social events such as this, and it is a great occasion to get your feet wet observing.  We do have 10" Dobsonian scopes available at the Dark Site for your use.

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 specific 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 driving time North of Dobbin off of State Highway 105 west of Montgomery.

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

2015 Remaining Star Party Schedule:

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

Public Night on

September 4, 2015.

Sunset will be at  7:33 P.M., and the moon will not rise until after midnight.  It should be a dark night.

Doors will openby about 7:15 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 were just over 80 guests in August, 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.


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 is at Jack Fields Elementary School, 2505 S. Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77396


Rusty's Ramblings


Hello, NHACers:


I have copied the news article in Notes #6, above, from Earth Sky News.  The following email address should work if you would like to sign up for their daily news  email.  (Except for August: They are taking weekends off in August.)  They are not highly technical, but often interesting.



On a different note, I have just returned from the Spectroscopy workshop in France which most of you knew I was going to.  I am going to report during the Novice Session on August 28, not on the workshop itself, but on the basic spectroscopic process I learned about.  I can tell you a lot of it went over my head, but at the same time I learned a great deal.  Pretty much everyone there has a passion for spectroscopy and what can be learned.  I hope to see you there.


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.