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).

19 December 2019.  The occasion of this monthly meeting was the annual SPAC Christmas Pizza Party. Attendees were treated to five different kinds of pizza along with various soft drinks, all furnished by the Club. While some Members couldn't attend, we had a good turnout. Vice President Tom Heisey was unfortunately out sick but sent his holiday greetings to the group.

We had some special visitors to the event— Dr. Vallia Antoniou and her husband and young daughter. Dr. Antoniou was hired by the Texas Tech Department of Physics and Astronomy to fill the position vacated by Robert Morehead when he moved on to Penn State. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Dr. Antoniou will manage Texas Tech's Gott Observatory. We were very pleased with the opportunity to meet her and her family and welcome them to Lubbock.

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 $1659.90. Since then, President Maas wrote two checks— one on Nov. 25 for $44.49 (payment for stickers ordered prior to the 60th Anniversay Workshop) and the other on Dec. 16 for $60.00 (cash to pay for the pizza). This leaves the SPAC bank account with a current balance of $1555.41. We gained two new members (Patrice and Rick Fay) at the meeting, and President Maas received a check for $30.00 to cover their dues.

The contest was held for choosing the new SPAC logo. Two designs were submitted. Voting favored the design submitted by Member Robb Chapman, so it is adopted as the new SPAC logo. It will henceforth appear on the SPAC webpage and other official documents.

President Maas read three proposed Amendments to the SPAC Consitition and By-Laws, as is required by the SPAC Constitution. The texts of these proposed Amendments had previously been emailed to all Members. The proposed Amendments will be debated and voted on at the next SPAC monthly meeting (January 2020).

President Maas presented a Status Report on SPAC Public Star Parties. The requirement for this report was established in the SPAC monthly meeting on 20 June 2019, when the Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon was proposed. The purpose of this report is to evaluate how well the two monthly star parties (Tech Terrace in Lubbock and Ransom Canyon) have been doing. The report reveals that public attendance at the Ransom Canyon event has been good (averaging around 30 visitors per month) while public attendance at the Tech Terrace event continues to be a problem (averaging around 6 visitors per month). The SPAC Executive Committee concluded that the Ransom Canyon event has been a success and should be continued, while possible alternative formats for the event at Tech Terrace might be explored if the public attendance doesn't improve.

Along these lines, President Maas described efforts by the SPAC Executive Committee (Steve Maas and Tom Heisey) to work with the Lubbock Parks and Recreation Department and the Lubbock Arboretum to develop new outreach activities. One of these efforts involves developing a series of Astronomy Workshops to be presented at the Hodges Community Center. These will initially be aimed at the Lubbock Home School Community which the Community Center has previously worked with. Vice-President Heisey will put together these workshops based on his experience at the Three Rivers Foundation, with the help of interested Club Members. It is felt that these workshops will give SPAC beneficial exposure to a large group of people in the local community. The first Workshop is scheduled for 1 February 2020.

Through discussions among these groups, a second type of new outreach activity was proposed. This is to conduct an event called a "Star Walk" at the Lubbock Arboretum. In this event, telescopes are set up at regular intervals along one of the trails through the Arboretum. After darkness falls, the public is invited to walk along the trail, visiting each scope in turn. Each scope will be set up to observe a particular object (moon, planet, star cluster, etc.) and the Club Member attending it will provide a brief description (history, significance) of what is being observed. Other organizations (like Copper Breaks State Park near Vernon, Texas) have successfully conducted these events, and organizers from the Lubbock Parks and Recreation Department and the Lubbock Arboretum are very excited about having us try this in Lubbock. The Parks and Recreation Department and Arboretum will publicize this event. The first "Saturday Star Walk" is scheduled for 1 February 2020, the same day as the first Astronomy Workshop. It is suggested that, if this event is succussful in drawing public attendance, it could eventually replace the current star party at Tech Terrace. Plans for these events will be further developed at the monthly SPAC meeting in January.

After the business meeting, there was a general discussion about other activities that the Club could participate in for the coming year. There was still support for a "Winter Star-BQ" among the Members present. A tentative date for it was established as March 20/21, with an alternate date the following weekend. President Maas asked if there was interest among Members for taking the "First Magnitude Challenge", where you view all 16 first-magnitude stars visible at this latitude in a single night. He also proposed a "Southrn Cross Challenge", where we attempt to see the top star in the constellation Crux from a point at our latitude. Normally, Crux is below our horizon but, due to atmospheric refraction, it may be possible to see the top star when it culminates. He also suggested we hold an observing event at Emma Cemetary for the Quadrantid Meteor Shower, which will peak on January 3/4. Several other suggestions were made by Club Members, including attempting the Messier Object Challenge and trying to observe the early crescent moon. Discussions of these potential events will continue via email.

Minutes of the business meeting.

21 November 2019.  President Maas reported that the SPAC bank account is unchaged since last month with a balance of $1659.90.

Final plans were made for the 60th Anniversary Workshop to be held on November 23rd. Vice-President Heisey described the layout of the Hodges Community Center, including the main room where we can set up our equipment. He also indicated that we will be able to use the doors opposite the baseball field to bring stuff into the Center. There will be tables, chairs, and electrical outlets in the main room. Also, WiFi will be available.

President Maas querried the Members present at the meeting as to what scopes they will bring to the Workshop. After discussions, it was established that we will have a good vaiety of scopes at the event. President Maas urged the participants to be at the Center on time (around 12:15 PM) so that everything will be set up in time for the 1 PM start of the event.

Vice-President Heisey described his appearrance on the "Noon Notebook" segment of the KCBD (Channel 11) Noon News on Novemnber 20th where he promoted the Workshop. The segment was originally going to be broadcast live, but unfortunately got bumped by other programming. It can be viewed on the KCBD website.

President Maas led a discussion about identifying a new Treasurer following Lesley Harris's resignation from that office. He stated that he could appoint someone to that office— this person would temporarily serve until regular elections are held in January. As no one present was enthusiastic about serving in this temporary appointment, it was decided to leave the office vacant until a new Treasurer can be elected in January. President Maas will handle any financial actions necessary during the interim period.

It was decided to move the dates of the two Public Star Parties ahead by one week, starting in January 2020. This move is necessary to keep the events in synchrony with the lunar phases.

President Maas described the need for a new Club logo, and proposed that a contest be held among Members to come up with one. Everyone present was urged to try to come up with a design and submit it before the December regular meeting. The entries will be voted on at that meeting. Member Rolan Pirtle described that the Club once had a logo, and will try to find a copy of it so that it can be submitted to the contest.

The Members present indicated that they were still interested in having a Fall Star-BQ, after the previous attempts to hold this event were cancelled due to weather conditions. President Maas will come up with a new set of potential dates for the event and present them to the Club.

Following the business meeting, Member Yuexiao Shen gave a presentation in which he described the equipment and procedures that he uses in his astro-imaging.

Minutes of the business meeting.

17 October 2019.  Treasurer Lesley Harris stated that the SPAC bank account is unchaged since last month with a balance of $1659.90. Two membership fees that she received last month are being kept as petty cash to cover future small expenses.

Plans were made for the 60th Anniversary Workshop to be held on November 23rd. Lesley Harris described the venue (Hodges Community Center) reserved for the event. Because the Community Center is co-hosting the event with SPAC, we won't have to pay for using the venue. The Community Center, through the Lubbock Parks & Recreation Department, will also assist in publicizing the event. The event will run from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM that afternoon. Tentative committments were made by Members attending the meeting to participate in the Workshop and set up a variety of telescopes, binoculars and imaging systems. We should be able to show at least one example of each major type of telescope at the event. It was also decided to have a table set up to provide information about SPAC and to allow people to join the Club. Visitors to the event will be invited to attend the SPAC Public Star Party to be held at Ransom Canyon later that evening (weather permitting).

To help publicize the Workshop, representatives of SPAC will appear on the "Noon Notebook" segment of the KCBD (Channel 11) Noon News on Novemnber 20th. An article will also appear in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal describing SPAC's Anniversary and the Workshop.

Vice-President Tom Heisey and Member Collin Smith described their efforts to identify a location to hold a public viewing event for the transit of Mercury that will occur during the morning hours of November 11th. No location has been identified yet, but they will inform the Club as to their progress in this effort.

President Maas indicated that the situation looks good for holding the Fall Star-BQ at the ranch in King County on the night of October 25th. A number of Members indicated their interest in participating. President Maas will provide directions to the site via an email for those who currently don't know how to get there.

Following the business meeting, Vice-President Heisey gave a presentation on design and scientific findings of NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter. He also showed photos that he took during his visit to the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Minutes of the business meeting.

19 September 2019.  Treasurer Lesley Harris stated that SPAC currently has a net balance of $1659.90 in its Prosperity Bank checking account. Expenditures during the past month amount to $340.79, of which $34.84 went to purchase checks, $30.94 went to purchase business cards, and the remaining $275.00 was a fee paid to the IRS for processing our 501(c)(3) tax exemption application (which was approved). We picked up one new Club member— Mr. Yuexiao Shen.

Recently printed South Plains Astronomy Club business cards were distributed to Members present at the meeting.

The Amendments to the SPAC By-Laws that President Maas read at last month's meeting were unanimously accepted. These amendments move the time of SPAC's regular membership drive from September to April in order to bring SPAC's fiscal year in line with that of the Astronomical League. This will make things easier when we have to submit our membership roster and pay our dues to the Astronomical League in June of each year. Members who have paid their dues for the current year will not have to pay dues again until April of next year. The Amendments have been posted on the ABOUT US page of this website.

The Club Members present at the meeting decided to have a Members-only dark-sky observing event in the Fall at the ranch in King County similar to the Star-BQ held there in the Spring. For the Fall event, we will forego the barbecue dinner, so this will essentially be a "Star-BQ without Bar-BQ". October 25-26 (Friday night-Saturday morning) were chosen as the primary dates for the event, with November 1-2 selected as the back-up dates. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

Vice-President Tom Heisey described potential cooperative events with the Camera Club for upcoming solar eclipses. For the total eclipse in 2024, this could involve reserving space at a State Park in Central Texas along the path of totality. Planning is at a very preliminary stage, and Tom will let us know as things develop. Along a similar line, Member Collin Smith reminded the Club about the transit of Mercury that will occur in November of this year. He and Tom will develop a plan for an observing event for the transit and will report back to the Club as plans develop.

President Maas reminded the Club Members at the meeting that this November will mark the 60th anniversary of the South Plains Astronomy Club. The SPAC Executive Committee is planning on publicizing this to the general public through the local print and broadcast media by holding an event (possibly some type of astronomy-related workshop) to commemorate the anniversary. The Committee will provide additional information as plans for the event develop.

Following the business meeting, Vice-President Heisey gave a presentation on design and preliminary findings of NASA's Parker Solar Probe.

Minutes of the business meeting.

15 August 2019.  Our new Treasurer Lesley Harris gave her first Treasurer's Report at the meeting. SPAC is in good shape financially— as of the meeting time, our bank balance was $2,020.44 with outstanding expenses of $208.66. Our annual dues to the Astronomical League have been paid and we've rented a post office box to receive official Club mail (like bank statements and Club dues). We picked up eight new members since the meeting in July.

Lesley informed the Club members about switching SPAC's checking account from the TTU Credit Union to Prosperity Bank. This is in part due to the Credit Union's preference that organizations they serve be affiliated with Texas Tech (SPAC isn't). Also, Prosperity Bank will provide better financial services to SPAC, most at no cost.

President Maas read the text of two proposed amendments to SPAC's By-Laws, as is required by our Constitution. These amendments will change the time of the annual membership drive from September to April. The reasons for this change were outlined in an email sent to Club members on 13 August. The amendments will be voted on at the September meeting.

President Maas led a discussion about the possibility of changing the domain for the SPAC website. Member Tom Heisey indicated that the old domain, southplainsastronomy.org, was still available and could be used for the website. In a unanimous vote, it was decided to change the domain for SPAC's website from the current cat-star.org to southplainsastronomy.org. Over the next few months, the SPAC Executive Committee will work to accomplish this.

Treasurer Harris reminded Club members about the Pool Party that she and her husband Scott are putting on this coming Saturday (17 August). Members should RSVP if they plan on attending.

The meeting had one visitor— Mr. Yuexiao Shen, an astronomy enthusiast that has just moved here from Central California. He brings substantial expertise in astronomical imaging, and we look forward to counting him as a new member.

Following the business meeting, the Club viewed the film "Inside the Milky Way", a great documentary on our home galaxy.

Minutes of the business meeting.

18 July 2019.  President Steve Maas described his efforts with the Ransom Canyon Property Owners' Association (POA) Events Committee in publicizing the upcoming Public Star Party to be held in Ransom Canyon on Saturday, 27 July. He indicated that the POA Events Committee is doing a great job in this effort. Due to the potential for a fairly large public turnout, President Maas requested that the Club field around 4 to 5 telescopes for this event. The Members present indicated that this was do-able. President Maas will provide additional information via email as the time of the event gets closer.
Member Lesley Harris was elected unanimously without opposition for the position of SPAC Treasurer. The Club will benefit immensely from Lesley's imagination, enthusiasm and energy in this position.

President Maas conveyed that Dr. Robert Morehead, Professor in the Texas Tech Department of Physics and Astronomy, has accepted a position at Penn State and will be leaving in mid-August. This may potentially affect SPAC activities because Dr. Morehead has been in charge of the Gott Observatory, one of SPAC's observing sites. We will wait to see who is his replacement in that position.

Member Lesley Harris announced that she and her husband Scott would like to host a get-together for SPAC Club Members at their home in Lubbock, tentatively on Saturday, 17 August. Further information will be available as the time gets closer.

Following the business meeting, we watched the film "The City Dark", a documentary on light pollution and its effects on astronomy, wildlife and human health.

Minutes of the business meeting.

20 June 2019.  President Steve Maas went over details of the coming SPAC Star-BQ to be held on 28-29 June. He indicated that he would send an email out to all members early next week finalizing the details and soliciting who and how many were planning on attending. The long-range weather forecast looks favorable for holding the event. A final "go or no-go" message would be sent by email to the members on the morning of the 28th. This message will also appear on the Message Board on the SPAC Website.

President Maas presented a proposal for revising how SPAC does its Public Star Parties. In summary,

There would be two Public Star Parties scheduled for each month. By scheduling two per month, there is a 65% probability that at least one of the events will have clear skies during a typical month. It is unlikely (only 18% probability) that both would have clear skies in a given month.

The first event would be held on the second Saturday of the month and would be primarily a "moon observing" event (plus the brighter planets, double stars and brighter star clusters). The second event would be held on the fourth Saturday of the month and would be primarily a "dark-sky object observing" event (galaxies, nebulas and star clusters, plus the planets). The events were moved to Saturdays to avoid potential conflicts with high school football on Friday nights in the fall.

The first event would continue to be held at Tech Terrace Park, while the second event would be held at Ransom Canyon, which has reasonably dark skies due to a much lower level of light pollution.

The proposed plan would be evaluated after 6 months and any appropriate changes could be made at that time.

A motion to institute this plan passed unanimously. So, once the plan is set up, SPAC will be have a new and hopefully improved way for holding its Public Star Parties.

Member Craig Patterson recounted his experiences at the 2019 Texas Star Party that he attended back in May. He illustrated his talk with numerous photographs of the event site, some of the more impressive telescopes present, nearby attractions, and even some of the local wildlife (skunks and tarantulas). He also showed a few of the astro-images he acquired.

Minutes of the business meeting.

16 May 2019.  In response to the question raised by President Steve Maas, the members of the club present voted overwhelmingly in support of continuing to hold public star parties. This being decided, a lively discussion followed about how to schedule public star parties so that there was a greater likelihood that they would avoid being cancelled due to cloudiness (as is the case with the current way they are scheduled). A number of suggestions were presented and discussed, but no concensus was reached. The topic was tabled for further discussion at next month's meeting. In a related matter, members Lesley and Scott Harris described some options for signs to be used to direct people to the public star parties.

Tom Heisey was elected SPAC Vice-President. As described by President Maas, his duties in that position will emphasize community outreach to take advantage of his substantial experience and capabilities in this area.

Thanks to modifications made by Tom Heisey, calls to the old SPAC webpage are now re-directed to the new webpage.

Dr. Ken Baake from Texas Tech was present and described the event he is planning at Caprock Canyon State Park for which he has invited members of SPAC to bring telescopes for viewing. The date for this event was set as Friday, 24 May, weather permitting. Collin Smith will coordinate with Dr. Baake and will provide further details to SPAC members as the time gets closer to the event.

Ms. Holly Jessen, Director of Children's Ministry at the First Christian Church of Lubbock, contacted Collin Smith about having someone from the club come and speak to some of their children about astronomy. This would be in early June. Tom Heisey has volunteered to do this.

Member Lesley Harris brought two delicious bundt cakes that were greatly enjoyed by all. 😋

Dr. Tom Maccarone of the TTU Department of Physics and Astronomy gave a presentation on research he and his colleagues at Texas Tech are conducting involving black holes. He described how black holes and neutron stars are formed and the various ways they can be detected, including the measurement of gravity waves from their collisions.

Minutes of the business meeting.

18 April 2019.  The new version of the South Plains Astronomy Club website was unveiled at the April club meeting. The new webpage contains all the information from the previous one plus many new enhancements and a hopefully more eye-catching design. The new website can be accessed at http://cat-star.org/southplainsastronomy/spac-index.html.

The weekend of June 28-29 was established as the tentative date for the First Annual South Plains Astronomy Club "Star-BQ". The weekend of August 2-3 was identified as the backup date for the event in case weather prevents holding it in June.

SPAC President Steve Maas provided copies of a document to the attending members describing a possible new approach to holding the monthly public star parties. The purpose of this document is to stimulate discussion on the topic at the next monthly meeting.

Collin Smith described an invitation that SPAC has received from Ken Baake, a professor at Texas Tech, for providing a private star party for a group he is heading up in late May (weather permitting). This would be held at Caprock Canyon State Park. He is willing to donate $250 to SPAC for our effort. The proposal was favorably received by the members attending the meeting. Collin will provide further details as they develop.

The Club welcomed two new members, Randy DeLung and Craig Patterson.

Member Tom Heisey made a presentation in which he described the equipment and methods he uses for his acclaimed skyscape photography. He showed numerous examples of his photos of night time landscapes, thunderstorms and the Milky Way.

Minutes of the business meeting.

21 March 2019.  In our monthly club meeting for March, the South Plains Astronomy Club unanimously approved holding the First Annual South Plains Astronomy Club "Star-BQ". This event will consist of a late-afternoon barbeque followed after sunset by an all-night observing session. The event is for SPAC members, family and invited guests and will be held at a dark-sky site in King County (approximately 100 miles east of Lubbock) operated by several club members. The event is tentatively planned for late-spring or early-summer.

There was a lengthy discussion of the public star parties and possible ways to improve them. Nothing was decided and the topic is open for further discussion at future monthly meetings.

Ms. Caroline Reeves, Manager of the Moody Planetarium at Texas Tech University, presented an overview of the history, operation and goals of the planetarium.

Minutes of the business meeting.



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