The South Plains Astronomy Club is a small group of active astronomers who enjoy observing under the beautifully dark West Texas skies while being serenaded by coyotes and night birds. We’re a friendly bunch who enjoy showing newcomers the night skies and discussing the latest in telescopes, astro-imaging, astronomical discoveries and space exploration.


Missed a recent monthly SPAC meeting? A summary of what went on is presented below so you can keep up-to-date on club activities. You can also access the minutes of the business meeting once they have been approved by clicking on the link provided (Use the "Back" button on your browser to return to this page).

17 December 2020.  SPAC held its last regular monthly meeting for 2020 via ZOOM, hosted by Secretary Patrice Fay. Highlight of the meeting was Patrice demonstrating how to use an ordinary CD disk (with a bit of modification) to view the spectra of light sources. This approach can be used to view the spectra of bright astronomical objects like the Moon, planets and stars.

President Steve Maas urged everyone to remember to view the close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that will occur on the 21st of the month. Weather forecasts indicate that conditions should be favorable for viewing the event. Hopefully some Club Members can get some interesting photos of the conjunction. President Maas also inquired whether any Members had observed the Geminid meteor shower earlier in the week. Several reported viewing the event and indicated that they had observed quite a few meteors. President Maas described his efforts at photographing the event, which led to his emailing several of the better photos to Club Members.

While this year's December Meeting lacked the pizza that we traditionally have at this event, all still had a good time.

19 November 2020.  SPAC held its regular monthly meeting via ZOOM, hosted by Secretary Patrice Fay. We had pretty good attendance, with eight Members logging in to the session. Treasurer Rick Fay gave his treasurer's report, in which he indicated that the Club has $1734.41 in its bank account and $35.00 in petty cash. There were no expenditures during the previous month.

Patrice treated everyone to a presentation on the formation of craters on the Moon (see the photo below), complete with demonstations. By dropping objects of various sizes into a tray of sand, she was able to demonstate the size and structure of craters and how they related to the speed at which the object hit the surface. In an extension of the ZOOM meeting, she and Rick showed how to capture views through a telescope using a smart phone. We were able to see live views of the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the star Vega.

It was good to catch up on what everyone has been doing, and we're grateful that everyone seems to be avoiding the pandemic. While we won't be able to hold our traditional SPAC Pizza Party next month, we're still looking forward to next month's virtual meeting.

15 October 2020.  Due to a last-minute issue with hosting the ZOOM meeting, our monthly SPAC meeting for October had to be cancelled. We'll try again next month.
17 September 2020.  SPAC held its second ZOOM version of the monthly meeting, this time hosted by our Secretary Patrice Fay. The session started at 7:00 PM, and we had a total of six participants. The meeting went over the normal 40 minutes alloted for this type of ZOOM event, so Secretary Fay set up an addition event that followed the first. Treasurer Rick Fay could not be present, so Secretary Fay gave the treasurer's report. The amount of funds that the Club has remains unchanged from last month ($1779.41).

Participants had been asked to have a die (i.e., one of a pair of dice) to use in an astronomical demonstration led by Secretary Fay. Each participant rolled their die to provide a number to Patrice that showed how difficult it was for a photon generated by nuclear fusion in the Sun's core to migrate outward toward the Sun's surface. This shows why it can take thousands of years for a photon to make this journey.

President Maas suggested that Members might hold an informal stargazing event at Ransom Canyon later in the month to try out some of the non-contact observing techniques described on the SPAC website. Patrice Fay demonstrated how she uses a smartphone attached to her telescope to display the image on a laptop. She reported that this works well for viewing the Moon. President Maas showed the Revolution Imager that he uses to image dimmer objects like deep-sky objects. Discussions among the participants led to the conclusion that it may be many months before we are able to get back to holding public stargazing events.

President Maas proposed holding an informal stargazing event at Old Emma Cemetary on Halloween night, which falls on a Saturday. While interest was expressed for this event, a number of participants indicated that they would be trick-or-treating with their children or grand-children that night.

20 August 2020.  SPAC held its first ZOOM version of the monthly meeting, hosted by President Steve Maas. The session started at 7:00 PM, and we had a total of eight participants, which isn't too bad for a first try. Treasurer Rick Fay gave his treasurer's report, with his main financial actions being two payments— our Club dues to the Astronomical League ($125) and renewing the SPAC Post Office box ($106). This gives us a current balance of $1779.41.

We decided to forego the rest of the business meeting and just get caught up on what everyone has been doing. It seems that most everyone observed Comet Neowise in one manner or another. Several individuals still have photos of the comet that they haven't processed yet. We'll add them to the SPAC website when they're ready. President Maas described his efforts in photographing the Perseid meteor shower during the previous week. This led to other Members recounting their experiences with previous showers, including the 1966 Leonid meteor shower which by all accounts was awesome.

It was suggested that Club Members get together next month (September) for an informal viewing session at Ransom Canyon. In addition to normal observing, it would be an opportunity to try out several of the imaging systems described on the SPAC NON-CONTACT OBSERVING page on a variety of scopes. This could prepare us for eventually resuming public stargazing events once the COVID-19 pandemic quiets down. Date and time of this session will be announced via email.

Secretary Patrice Fay offered to host future ZOOM versions of the SPAC monthly meeting. She has considerable experience in these types of virtual meetings. The ZOOM session was concluded at 8:00 PM.

16 July 2020.  Due to a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic in Lubbock County, the SPAC monthly meeting for this month was cancelled, along with the Saturday Star Walk at the Lubbock Arboretum and the Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon. Plans for future activities were placed on hold until we can again safely hold public gatherings.
18 June 2020.  For the first time in several months, the South Plains Astronomy Club held its regular monthly meeting. To comply with safe distancing guidelines, the meeting was held outdoors at the Rose Garden of the Lubbock Arboretum. This allowed the attending Club Members to maintain the recommended 6-foot distancing. All attending Members also wore face masks.

A relatively small number of Members attended the meeting, but it was sufficient for the quorum required to conduct Club business. The minutes of the last meeting, held back on 20 February, were approved. Also, the Amendment to the SPAC Constitution and By-Laws read at the February meeting was approved. This Amendment replaces gender-specific text in the Constitution and By-Laws with gender-neutral text.

Notably absent from the meeting were members of the SPAC Executive Committee. Vice-President Tom Heisey was out of town to attend to family-related issues. Treasurer Rick Fay and Secretary Patrice Fay were absent due to non-COVID-19 health problems. President Steve Maas read a summary of the Club financial status provided by Treasurer Fay. The Club currently has a balance of $1980.41 of which $330.00 was collected as dues in the recent membership drive. SPAC currently has 24 Members— 22 individuals who have renewed their memberships and two new Members (Wei Li and Min Xie).

The main topics discussed at the meeting were plans for resuming SPAC's public stargazing events. Due to the recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Lubbock County, it was agreed that a wait-and-see approach would be used to determine when these events would resume. Ideas for how these events would be conducted to accomodate safe operating practices were proposed. These ideas were based on the conclusion that disinfecting telescopes between users would be impractical. As a possible solution to this problem, ways were discussed that would allow visitors to see what was being observed with the telescopes without actually making contact with the scopes. These "non-contact" observing methods involve attaching a camera to the telescope and displaying the image of the observed object on a nearby monitor or computer screen. The camera could be a video camera, a small USB camera, or a smartphone. This approach was inspired by an article in the June 2020 Sky & Telescope describing how video cameras could be used to observe deep-sky objects. President Maas showed an example of one of the systems described in the article which he had previously purchased for use at star parties. He also described other possible approaches proposed by Members Tom Heisey and Rick and Patrice Fay.

After discussion, it was the concensus of the attending Members that the Club should investigate these and other "non-contact" observing methods for potential use when SPAC's public stargazing events are resumed. Members are encouraged to share ideas about these approaches, with the goal being to "test-bed" several systems at a future private event, probably at Ransom Canyon.

Interest was also expressed by several attending Members to hold another private dark-sky observing session at the ranch in King County. It was decided to set up a date in July (weather permitting) for such an event.

21 May 2020.  Like last month, the regular monthly meeting of the South Plains Astronomy Club for May, along with the Saturday Star Walk at the Lubbock Arboretum and the Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon, were cancelled due to the Coronavirus epidemic. The date of this month's meeting did mark the end of the SPAC Membership Drive. SPAC Treasurer Rick Fay reports that, as of this date, a total of 20 Members have renewed their memberships. In addition, we picked up two new members, giving the Club a total of 22 paid members. Members who have not renewed their memberships have until June 21 to renew before they are dropped from the Club.
16 April 2020.  The regular monthly meeting of the South Plains Astronomy Club for April, along with the Saturday Star Walk at the Lubbock Arboretum and the Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon, were cancelled due to the Coronavirus epidemic. April 16 did mark the start of the SPAC annual membership drive where Members can renew their Club memberships. Since we would not be meeting in person, two additional options were provided for paying dues— by mail and by the "Donations" button located on the SPAC website. Members have until the date of the May monthly meeting to renew their membership without falling into delinquency.
19 March 2020.  The regular monthly meeting of the South Plains Astronomy Club for March was cancelled, specifically because St. John's Church (where we hold our meetings) cancelled all public events at their facilities until further notice due to the Coronavirus epidemic. Due to restrictions on public gatherings, SPAC has had to cancel the Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon (scheduled for March 21) and the Saturday Star Walk at the Lubbock Arboretum (scheduled for April 4). Other future events may likely be cancelled due to public health issues.
20 February 2020.  Treasurer Rick Fay reported that there were no deposits to or withdrawals from the SPAC checking account, so the account balance remains at $1585.41.

A discussion was lead by President Steve Maas of the Star Walk put on by the Club earlier in the month. Everyone was generally pleased by the event. Several suggestions were made to improve the event. It had been noted that some visitors to the event had bypassed the Welcome Desk by entering the Rose Garden from the walk coming from the parking lot to the east of the site. It is important that all visitors stop by the Welcome Desk so we can get an accurate tally of them. To remedy this in the future, a rope barrier will be set up along the walk from the parking lot to direct the visitors to the Welcome Desk. It was also noted that there was some duplication among the telescopes in the objects targeted. It was reiterated that the Star Walk is a structured event and each scope should stay on a single object to insure that the visitors passing through the event get to see the maximum number of objects without unnecessary duplication. This is different from the regular Public Star Parties, which are unstructured events in which each scope operator can target whatever objects they desire.

President Maas voiced concern over finding enough Club Members to regularly participate in events like the Star Walk. SPAC currently has 34 Members, but there is a "core group" of only around a dozen that regularly participate in Club activities. To be effective, the Star Walk needs to have a minimum of 9-10 scopes, which would mean that essentially the same Members might need to participate every month. To solve this problem, President Maas stated that SPAC needs to get more active Members— not just more Members. If SPAC had around 20 active Members, then there could be much more flexibility in who participates in events. President Maas stated that a goal of the Club should be to increase the number of active Members.

President Maas suggested that one way to increase the number of active Members is to use our outreach events to recruit them. We should be more active in trying to recruit new Members at our stargazing and public speaking events. A second way is to use SPAC's Junior Membership program to recruit younger members who, through instruction and training, can become active participants in our stargazing events. To this end, President Maas appointed Member Patrice Fay to be Chairperson of Junior Activities (in addition to her role as Club Secretary). In this role, Patrice will work to establish a vibrant Junior Membership Program, and everyone is encouraged to assist her in this effort.

President Maas read the text of an Amendment to the SPAC Constitution and By-Laws. The purpose of this Amendment is to replace gender-specific text in the Constitution and By-Laws with gender-neutral text. The Amendment will be voted on in the March meeting.

President Maas reported on his meeting with the Ransom Canyon Property Owner's Association (POA) Events Committee held the Sunday after the Public Star Party. The POA will check into the possibility of making the restrooms at the Ransom Canyon Fire Station available for use during the Public Star Party.

Members were reminded that the "Winter Star-BQ" is scheduled for the night of Friday, March 20. Hopefully the weather will cooperate for this dark-sky event.

Following the business meeting, we heard the presentation, "Legend of the Marysville Black Squirrel, or, The Total Solar Eclipse That Almost Didn't Happen" by Patrice Fay. This recounted her and her husband's adventures attending the total solar eclipse of 2017.

Minutes of the business meeting.

16 January 2020.  Despite bad weather in the area, we had a good turnout for our first meeting of the new year. Vice President Tom Heisey was unfortunately out sick and could not make the meeting.

President Steve Maas provided the report on SPAC finances. At the time of the last monthly meeting, the SPAC bank account had a balance of $1555.41. On December 23rd, President Maas deposited $30.00 into the account, the money coming from membership dues. There were no payments or withdrawals, so the SPAC account currently has a balance of $1585.41.

The three amendments to the SPAC Constitution and By-Laws that President Maas had read at the December meeting were voted on. All passed 11-0. The texts of the amendments will be placed on the "ABOUT US" page of the SPAC Website.

As required by the SPAC Constitution, Club Officers were elected. For 2020, the Officers are: Steve Maas (President), Tom Heisey (Vice-President), Rick Fay (Treasurer), and Patrice Fay (Secretary). All candidates ran unopposed.

Plans were made for the "Saturday Star Walk" that will be held at the Lubbock Arboretum near the Hodges Community Center on Saturday, February 1 (weather permitting). This event will replace the Public Star Party previously held at Tech Terrace Park. The event will be publicized by the Lubbock Parks and Recreation Department and the Lubbock Arboretum. Member Mark Smith found it listed in the City of Lubbock Recreation & Leisure Services Activity Guide that is available online and is included in the local newspaper. President Maas described how discussions between him and Vice-President Heisey and representatives of the Arboretum and the Hodges Community Center resulted in the Rose Garden next to the Community Center being selected as the site of the first Star Walk. Support for the event was voiced by the Members present at the Meeting, and tentative committments were made by many of them to participate. Member Collin Smith provided a list of potential objects to observe, which he emailed to Members. The event will start at around 6:30 PM, and participating Members were urged to show up at around 5:45-6:00 PM to begin setting up. The event is scheduled to last around 2 hours.

Member Collin Smith described that there will be a close conjunction among the Moon, Venus and Neptune on the evening of January 27th. This should be a good target for viewing with a small telescope or binoculars.

Following the business meeting, we watched the recorded lecture, "The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Invented Modern Astronomy" by author Michael Lemonick.

Minutes of the business meeting.



HOMEReturn to SPAC Main Page

Questions or comments? Email SPAC@cat-star.org