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.


The South Plains Astronomy Club welcomes opportunities to bring the the fun of astronomy to the public. Besides our regular Public Star Parties, we have participated in numerous public and private events involving youth, church and educational groups wherein we have shared our knowledge and enthusiasm for astronomy through lectures, demonstrations, and observing sessions. Some of our recent outreach activities are described below.
April 2019.  SPAC Vice-President Tom Heisey represented the Club on 18 and 19 April 2019 at the Science Spectrum Space Day in Lubbock. This was a daytime event, so Tom concentrated on the Sun. As shown in the pictures below, he had tables set up on both days to show off photographs and equipment. On the 18th, the table was inside and around 100 kids stopped by to ask questions— 5-6 of them were really interested in the Sun and asked a lot of questions. On the 19th, Tom's table was just outside the Science Spectrum entrance and was one of three tables greeting families as they came up to the facility. Tom saw about 200 kids and parents that day, with a few returning several times to watch the few small prominences change over time through the solar telescope. Tom also had a solar spotter out as well, but there were no sunspots on the side of the Sun facing us, so he only used it as an example of how they could observe the sun.


May 2019.  At the request of Dr. Ken Baake of the Texas Tech English Department’s Technical Writing group, members of the South Plains Astronomy Club conducted a star gazing party for a group of his graduate students at the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge. This occurred on the night of May 21. SPAC members Richard Craig, Brian Greenlees, Collin Smith and Steve Maas brought and set up four telescopes with a range of sizes (4" up to 12" aperture) for viewing planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulas and galaxies. A description of this event posted by Collin Smith can be found in our Observing Reports section on this website. Dr. Baake's students sent us a very nice card thanking us for putting on this event for them (reproduced below).

June 2019.  Ms. Holly Jessen, Director of Children's Ministry at the First Christian Church of Lubbock, contacted SPAC about having someone from the club come and speak to some of their children about astronomy. On the 6th of June, Vice-President Tom Heisey gave a presentation to this group which consisted of 97 kids ranging in age from 4 to 14, along with teachers and parents. Since this was a daytime event, he concentrated on the Sun. He set up a solar telescope so that the kids could see features on the Sun's surface (see the photo to the left). While there weren't any good prominences to see, they were fortunate that there were two large filaments on the surface accompanied by some obvious granulation so they had some nice details to see. There were some obscuring clouds throughout the day, which gave Tom the opportunity to talk about the water cycle powered by the sun's heat and more. He also brought a poster of the Venus transit to show what features were obscured by the clouds.

The kids were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the Sun and it's impact on life. Several younger groups surprised Tom by knowing the Sun was a ball of plasma or gas. A few were real astronomy fans who couldn't get enough of the view.

After the event, the youth pastor sent Tom the following text: "Thank you soooo much for today! Heard all about it today taking kids home. You're a rock star and greatly appreciated by us at FCC!"

July 2019.  The South Plains Astronomy Club held its first Public Star Party in Ransom Canyon, Texas, on the evening of 27 July. SPAC worked closely with the Ransom Canyon Property Owners' Association (POA)— special thanks go out to Val Meixner and Ashley Hougland of the POA Events Committee for their work in promoting the event. In addition to numerous electronic invitations, posters were put up at the City Hall, Library and Public Swimming Pool, and signs announced the event at the two entrance/exits of the town (see the photos below).

Around sundown, Club Members set up six telescopes at "The Meadow", a large grassy area in the town. Sky conditions were generally favorable during most of the evening, and the participants were treated to excellent views of Jupiter, Saturn, double stars, star clusters, and nebulas. Member Collin Smith has provided an excellent observing report for the evening. We estimated that around 50 people participated in the event.

The star party was featured in the Ransom Canyon POA's monthly newsletter, The Echo. You can read their article by clicking here (click your browser's "Back" button to return to this page). Unfortunately, they got the date of the next one wrong in their article, but we're working on correcting that.
The local newspaper The Slatonite also covered the star party. You can read their article by clicking here (click your browser's "Back" button to return to this page).

In a show of solidarity, our "distance members" in Central Texas (Eileen and Harold St.Amant and 'Mo') held their own private star party on the same evening (see the photo to the left).

Incidently, there was also a cat (Collin Smith's 'Luce') at the Ransom Canyon star party. It's good to know that we are reaching the feline population.

August 2019.  We had a good turnout for the South Plains Astronomy Club Public Star Party at Tech Terrace Park in Lubbock on the evening of 10 August. Four scopes were set up (including one by a visitor) and around a dozen visitors stopped by to view the moon (about 3/4 full), Jupiter, Saturn and double stars over the course of the evening. There were quite a few high clouds early in the session that made viewing difficult, but these later cleared out. Some of the participants are shown in the photos below (no, it's not the same telescope in both pictures!).

September 2019.  The numbers of visitors attending the monthly South Plains Astronomy Club Public Star Party at Tech Terrace Park in Lubbock continue to grow. We counted 18 visitors at the September 14 event. We had a lot of high clouds on this evening so viewing conditions weren't great, but we were still able to treat the visitors to nice views of Jupiter, Saturn, the (almost-full) Moon, and some double stars. Many of the visitors commented that this was the first time they had actually seen the details of Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon in real-life and they were quite impressed. Even simple things, like pointing out the Summer Triangle formed by the first-magnitude stars Vega, Deneb and Altair (which was directly overhead), was impressive to some.

Perhaps of more significance was the roll-out at this event of our new South Plains Astronomy Club business cards (see the photo below). Designed by our Treasurer Lesley Harris, these contain contact information for SPAC and are great for handing out to Star Party visitors and others that we meet to point their attention to the Club. This is something we've needed for a while. We'll start distributing these to Club Members at the next regular monthly meeting so they can help spread the word about the Club and its activities.

October 2019.  While last month's Public Star Party at Ransom Canyon was cancelled due to clouds, the October edition showed that people had not lost interest in this event. Weather conditions were clear and cool (but pleasant)— great for this Halloween time of year. Even Member Gary Leiker's Jack-O-Lantern made an appearance (see the photo to the right). We ended up with one of our largest visitor attendances— around 30 visitors, with at least half of this group children and teens. Some brought folding chairs and blankets, and a few hung around for the entirety of the event— almost 3 hours. The Club had set up five telescopes of various sizes ranging from 5" to 14". Visitors were treated to great views of Jupiter, Saturn, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster, and many more. In an email after the event, a member of the Ransom Canyon Property Owners' Association (POA) Events Committee stated, "Please allow me to convey our collective thanks to you and your fellow club members. Our residents love the opportunity to view the night skies and appreciate your making it possible. I am so happy that it is working out for all of us." A description of this event posted by Member Steve Maas can be found in our Observing Reports section on this website.

November 2019.  On the afternoon of November 23rd, the South Plains Astronomy Club put on the 60th Anniversary Astronomy and Telescope Workshop to commemorate the founding of the Club this month in 1959. This event was held at the Hodges Community Center in Lubbock in cooperation with the Lubbock Parks and Recreation Department. The purpose of the three-hour event was to provide information to the public on the selection and use of telescopes. Visitors could view a wide variety of telescopes and learn about the characteristics of each. This information could be useful to people who already own a telescope but may not be totally familiar with its operation, or to people who may be thinking about buying a telescope for Chritmas but are unfamiliar with what might best fit their desires and budget.

For the event, a dozen Club Members set up over two dozen telescopes in the main room of the Community Center (see the photo above). These ranged from large professional scopes to small, inexpensive scopes suited to beginning astronomers. One section was devoted to astrophotogrpahy, where visitors could see telescope and camera systems that could be used to photograph celestial objects. Visitors could circulate around the room, stopping to talk with Club Members about the various telescopes. There were also posters, books and other items related to astronomy for visitors to look at. Information about the Club was available at the reception desk as they entered the room.

The event drew 30 visitors from Lubbock and surrounding communities. This included a number of families. Most of these visitors spent over a hour viewing the various telescopes. The Club was able to add a number of new individuals to our mailing list and invitations to attend our Public Star Parties and Monthly Meetings were extended to many. We even picked up one new member. All in all, the event was very enjoyable to both the visitors and the Club Mrmbers, and we look forward to holding additional events with the Lubbock Parks and Recreation Department in the future.

Club Member Collin Smith, known for his eloquent Observing Reports, provided his own observations on the Workshop, along with some additional photos:

Saturday afternoon, November 23rd, 2019 we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the South Plains Astronomy Club at the Hodges Community Center. Designated an Astronomy and Telescope Workshop, we had a fair number of people walk through. I arrived about an hour late, at 2 PM, bringing two refractors, my William Optics Megrez 110 on the CG-4 1.75” steel leg tripod with Orion 16” pier extension and AZ-4 head and C102GT with GSO SkyView Delux alt-az mount, AstroTech 8” pier extension and wooden tripod legs. Scott Harris brought his Z130 and Apertura 8” dob, probably the best two values in astronomy today! Gary Leiker had his StarBlast 114 and 8” Edge SCT. Rolan Pirtle and Wade Estepp were there as well, without optics but a genuine love of astronomy and the night sky. And Rolan’s love of the Club literally extends back to his earliest childhood memories, since he can recall many of the Club’s original founders. Also present were Club President Steve Maas (5” Orion Maksutov), Mark Monk (14” Celestron SCT & dual alt-az mounted SCT/MCT), Tom Heisey, Club VP with chair, binoculars, Celestron Onyx 80EDF & Meade 125 ETX, Mark Smith (with the older, large homemade 10” F/5.6 dob), & Lynn Borel & his 10” SCT. We had a new person join the Club, Christian, who, along with his son, were very interested in Scott’s Z130. My younger daughter Sofia proudly wore the South Plains Astronomy Club cap Steve gave her. After 4 PM when it ended, helping Mark Monk pack everything into his car made everyone aware he was an Engineer. Civil Engineer?

December 2019.  The Saturday evening of December 28th marked the last SPAC Public Star Party for 2019. While the previous days had been foggy, cloudy and rainy, the weather cooperated for the event with clear skies, light winds, and chilly (but bearable) temperatures. Most impressive was the conjunction between a thin crescent Moon and the planet Venus that hung over the western Ransom Canyon cliffs. The event drew a few SPAC Club Members (many were still involved in Holiday activities) and a handful of visitors, like those in the photo below. The event had stiff competition from the National College Football Playoffs, which probably kept many indoors glued to their televisions. Still, for those who ventured out, there were great veiws of the Moon, Venus, the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and other celestial objects to be had throuh the telescopes set up for the event. The South Plains Astronomy Club looks forward to cooperating with the Ransom Canyon Property Owners' Association in the coming year to continue the success of these Public Star Parties.

Want to arrange an outreach event with the South Plains Astronomy Club? Send us an email at SPAC@cat-star.org.



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