Home » Fort Bend People & Places

Set Your Sights High


FBAC members and observatory staff wait for dark skies at the George Observatory. (L-R): Jeff Parr, Don Morris,John Cavouti, Connie Haviland, David Haviland, Tony Wiese, Tracy Knauss, Mac Hooton, Susan Sailing, Jo Sutter, Joshua Rohn.

FBAC members and observatory staff wait for dark skies at the George Observatory. (L-R): Jeff Parr, Don Morris,John Cavouti, Connie Haviland, David Haviland, Tony Wiese, Tracy Knauss, Mac Hooton, Susan Sailing, Jo Sutter, Joshua Rohn.

Exploring Space With The Out-Of-This-World Fort Bend Astronomy Club

By Judy Latta

Are you enthralled by the twinkling lights of celestial stars, the challenge of locating elusive planets and constellations in a speckled sea of darkness, and the mystical glow of a full moon? If so, you may want to check out the Fort Bend Astronomy Club (FBAC). No experience or knowledge of astronomy is needed to join; the only requirements are curiosity, a stargazer’s spirit and a love for the night sky.

Located in Stafford, FBAC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to observing, teaching and promoting the science of astronomy. Boasting the No. 1 astronomy edu­cation outreach program in the country, FBAC promotes understanding of our universe, both within the club and among the general public.

No telescope? No problem. Members not only use scopes but also binoculars, laser pointers, tablets, cell phones and sometimes even just plain eyesight to explore the heavens. One club stargazer’s first observation instrument was a rifle scope, which led fellow members to joke that this approach gave new meaning to the term “shooting star.” Additionally, one of the benefits of being an FBAC member is the ability to borrow and try out the most common types and sizes of telescopes from the club’s loaner scope program. This enables aspiring astronomers to get started without expense and to be well-informed if and when they are ready to purchase their own scopes.

FBAC Meetings

FBAC holds monthly club meetings, usually on the third Friday of the month at 7 p.m., in the Science Building lecture hall of the Houston Community College Southwest Campus in Stafford. The meetings generally consist of two informative presentations — the first a short novice presentation and the second a more in-depth one — followed by a session on club business and door prizes.

For those considering joining an astronomy club, a meeting would be a great place to start. That’s how Michael Fredette, current president of FBAC, landed with the club. “I’m a child of the Space Age and have always had a deep interest in space and astronomy,” he says. “I found myself in Houston, home to six great astronomy clubs.” Here in the Space City area, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to astronomy. Like Michael, many aspiring astronomers discover that the challenge is not finding a club; it’s deciding which club to join. Michael went to a Fort Bend Astronomy Club meeting in January 2011 and immediately realized it was just what he was looking for. He joined that night. “Six-plus years later,” he says, “I mark joining FBAC as one of the best decisions of my life.”

Educational Outreach

FBAC has provided educational outreach to Fort Bend County and beyond for more than 32 years. The club accomplishes its educational outreach through two major initiatives, the Astronomy on Wheels (AOW) program and volunteerism at the George Observatory.

Astronomy on Wheels

AOW takes astronomy out into the community for public consumption. Club member volunteers, armed with telescopes and other equipment and materials, are deployed to conduct educational “star parties” for schools, scouts, civic organizations, church groups and even an occasional homeowners’ association. At an AOW event, club members conduct indoor presentations, which run from 20 to 60 minutes, followed by viewing through the telescopes.

Some AOW volunteers are novices to the hobby, partnered with others who are experts in the field. Some are middle- schoolers just beginning to realize their awe of the universe, while others remember witnessing the dawn of the space age with Sputnik. An opportunity is always available if someone is interested in volunteering with FBAC.

“The George”

FBAC also supports the George Observa­tory, known to local astronomers as “The George.” Located in Brazos Bend State Park, the observatory is owned by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The jewel of The George is the Research Dome (RD) with its 36-inch Gueymard research-grade telescope, one of the largest in the U.S. that is open to the public. Almost every Saturday night, FBAC volunteers open the club’s 18-inch Newtonian reflector telescope in the East Dome (ED) for public viewing. Club members also serve as volunteers to operate the 36-inch telescope in the RD, as well as the 14-inch telescope in the West Dome (WD).

FBAC member Rosanne Dillon considers herself to be a novice stargazer who enjoys the companionship of other astronomy enthusiasts and is fascinated by the expertise within the membership. Rosanne says that FBAC is an incredible organization that does a great deal for the community. She introduced her daughter to the club, and she uses FBAC events as a
supplement to her daughter’s homeschool science curriculum. “This is an economical way to put hands-on astronomy in your
curriculum, costing you only the park entry fee,” she says. For volunteers who work 20 or more hours at the observatory, the park entry fee is waived.

Observation and Research

In addition to using its 18-inch reflector for public outreach, in the past FBAC members also used it, along with a research grade CCD camera, for asteroid searches, supernova searches and variable star observations. The FBAC asteroid search team, the “A-Team,” is credited with discovering 495 asteroids that are now permanently numbered, and many of them have been given formal names.

To Learn More

FBAC member and volunteer Leonard Ferguson, an active amateur astronomer and NASA ambassador with a particular interest in the sun and variable stars, suggests that the key to launching an astronomy hobby is to get out and start learning. “This hobby tends to be intimidating to beginners — unfamiliar instruments, complicated charts and all those stars and other stuff up there,” he says. Member and Donations Coordinator Tony Wiese adds, “The good news is that FBAC members are skilled, willing and eager to teach and share year after year with each other, beginners and the general public.”

For more information on the Fort Bend Astron­omy Club, visit fbac.org.

 

Club members Brad Thomas and Tracy Knauss prepare the Research Dome telescopes before a Public Night at “The George.” Tracy is also the Director of Astronomy at the George Observatory.

Club members Brad Thomas and Tracy Knauss prepare the Research Dome telescopes before a Public Night at “The George.” Tracy is also the Director of Astronomy at the George Observatory.

 

The Eagle Nebula shown is in the earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way, and is 5.7 thousand light years away in the constellation Serpens. This is a narrowband image taken with special filters to gather hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur bandwidths of light that are blended together to make a false color type image known as the Hubble palette. This photo of the Eagle Nebula was taken in July 2016 by astro-photographer and FBAC member Jeffrey Lepp.

The Eagle Nebula shown is in the earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way, and is 5.7 thousand light years away in the constellation Serpens. This is a narrowband image taken with special filters to gather hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur bandwidths of light that are blended together to make a false color type image known as the Hubble palette. This photo of the Eagle Nebula was taken in July 2016 by astro-photographer and FBAC member Jeffrey Lepp.

 

This grouping of three galaxies near the constellation Leo is known as the Leo Triplet. These galaxies range from 35 to 42 million light years distant. A light year is slightly less than six trillion miles. This photo was taken in May 2016 by astro-photographer and FBAC member Jeffrey Lepp.

This grouping of three galaxies near the constellation Leo is known as the Leo Triplet. These galaxies range from 35 to 42 million light years distant. A light year is slightly less than six trillion miles. This photo was taken in May 2016 by astro-photographer and FBAC member Jeffrey Lepp.

 

Club volunteers set up for an Astronomy on Wheels event at Colony Meadows Elementary School.

Club volunteers set up for an Astronomy on Wheels event at Colony Meadows Elementary School.


Comments are closed.