Home is Where The Science is: Become a museum member this Giving Tuesday!

They say home is where your heart is. That’s why HMNS is home to Lane the Triceratops, Ankh Hap the mummy, a few bamboo sharks and, most certainly, our amazingly devoted patrons. 

This Giving Tuesday, consider making our Museum your home. We would love to welcome you into our family, or even help you give the gift of membership to a loved one. 

With the help of a few donor groups, we do our best to foster the heart and passion of our visitors and give them a place to call home. With a wide range of programming — happy hours with an educational twist, first looks at exhibitions, luncheons honoring dedicated supporters, elegant cocktail parties — we’ve got something for everyone and every scene.

Development December 1

HMNS Catalysts:  Next Gen. Support
Launched in June, the HMNS Catalysts is a new membership group designed for the twenty and thirty-something crowd.  Catalysts events include weeknight happy hours located in Museum exhibitions, featuring curators and concierge team members who give an insider’s perspective to our world-class Museum. These like-minded learners have jumped right into the museum family and proven that the next generation of supporters is eager to make an impact on the future of our museum.

President’s Circle:  First Class First Looks
With over 350 members, the President’s Circle is a blossoming group full of museum aficionados. Eager for a first look at our exhibitions and equally as eager, if not more, to support the institution through a fund that augments our general operating budget, these donors provide a vital service to HMNS.  Gifts of $2,000 or more to the Annual Fund receive President’s Circle benefits, which include Museum membership and invitations to exclusive opening receptions for our temporary and permanent exhibitions. The group has extraordinary turnouts for Magna Carta, Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces, Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife, and Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibition openings this year. 

Curator’s Circle:  Exemplifying Passion and Generosity
Well into its third year, the Curator’s Circle has seen significant growth and raised over $1.4 million dollars for the Museum.  The group has covered a lot of territory in the past year – it’s seen the 1217 Magna Carta for its first and only time out of England, landed on the beaches of Normandy for 70th anniversary of D-Day, orbited the earth from the comfort of our portable planetarium, and peered into our own backyard for the new Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife.  Laurie Morian, founder of the Curator’s Circle, believes that “this special group exemplifies our passion for the Museum,” and hopes that these exclusive evenings spark the same passion in others. 

Legacy Society:  A Lasting Testament
A new small, yet growing, group of individuals has formed in recognition of those individuals who have made the thoughtful decision to include the Museum in their estate plans. These Legacy gifts include bequests, retirement plans, life insurance and other assets designated for the Museum after one’s death.  This foresight and commitment to the Museum, demonstrated in such a personal way, is truly gratifying and provides for the long-term sustenance of the institution.  We are so grateful for their generosity which will enrich the lives of future generations of museum patrons.

Development December 2

Whether you’re looking to join a new generation of museum enthusiasts, gain access to one-of-a-kind events and experiences, or create a lasting legacy through the excitement, wonder and discoveries that only science can bring, we want you to feel at home here.   

Are you interested in becoming a part of the HMNS family through one of our special donor groups?  Please contact us for more information.

HMNS Catalysts: Shannon Jeffcoat, Director of Membership, 713.639.4616, sjeffcoat@hmns.org

Curator’s Circle and President’s Circle: Sveta Darnell, Director of Individual Giving, 713.639.4729, sdarnell@hmns.org

Legacy Society: Barbara Hawthorn, VP Development and Membership, 713.639.4734, bhawthorn@hmns.org

Seeing Stars with James Wooten: A solstice and a shower for December

This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on December 1, 8 pm CST on December 15, and dusk on December 31.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. The Summer Triangle sets in the west.  This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila.  Mars outshines all the dim stars in the southwest.   Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the south.  To the east, we see Orion, the Hunter, and Taurus, the Bull, finally entering the sky.  The brilliant stars of winter began their grand entry.

This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on December 1, 8 pm CST on December 15, and dusk on December 31. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
The Summer Triangle sets in the west. This consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. Mars outshines all the dim stars in the southwest. Pegasus, the Flying Horse, is high in the south. To the east, we see Orion, the Hunter, and Taurus, the Bull, finally entering the sky. The brilliant stars of winter began their grand entry.

This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it moves through Capricornus. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind. 

Jupiter is now high in the south at dawn; it is the brightest thing there. 

Venus begins to emerge from the Sun’s glare late this month. Can you spot it low in the southwest at dusk by New Year’s Eve?

Saturn begins to emerge into the morning sky by mid-month. Look low in the southeast at dawn.

In December, the Big Dipper is below the horizon at dusk. As the Big Dipper sets, though, Cassiopeia is high above the North Star. This is a pattern of five stars in a distinct M or W shape. Look for Cassiopeia high in the north on fall and winter evenings.  

The Summer Triangle sets in the west.  Watch for the Great Square of Pegasus almost overhead at dusk now and in the west by Christmas. Taurus, the Bull rises in the east.  Look for the Pleiades star cluster above reddish Aldebaran. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter rises shortly after dusk (by month’s end, it is already up at dusk). As Orion enters the evening sky, we transition from the relatively dim evening skies of autumn to the brilliant stars of winter. We are beginning to face away from the center of the galaxy, looking at stars behind us in our own part (the Orion Spur) of our galaxy.

Moon Phases in December 2014:

Full: December 6, 11:26 am
Last Quarter: December 14, 11:53 am
New: December 22, 12:35 am
1st Quarter: December 28, 5:32 pm

At 10:03 pm on Sunday, December 21, the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, the farthest point south where this is possible. This puts the Sun as low as possible in our sky, and marks the winter solstice. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Sun is as high as possible in the sky—this is the summer solstice for them. 

Although the winter solstice is the shortest day, the earliest sunset occurred on about December 2, and the latest sunrise will occur January 10.

That’s because the Earth speeds up on its orbit as it approaches perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) next month. This acceleration shifts sunrise, local noon, and sunset slightly later each day this month and next. The effect is smaller than that of the Sun taking a lower path across the sky, which normally dominates in causing earlier sunsets and later sunrises. But the Sun’s apparent path varies very little near the solstice itself, allowing the secondary effect of the Earth approaching the Sun to predominate. For most people, then, (those who witness sunset but sleep through sunrise), days will seem to lengthen throughout December, although they don’t really begin lengthening until December 21.

The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks this month, as it does every December. Along with the Perseids in August, the Geminids are one of the two most reliable meteor showers, producing on average about 100 meteors per hour. 

The Geminids are unique among meteor showers because they are associated not with a comet but with an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. This means that with Geminids, we see significant activity much earlier in the night than with other showers. Most meteor showers peak in the hours immediately before dawn. This is because what plows through the debris field is the leading edge of the Earth, and that’s the side going from night into day.  Since Phaethon is an asteroid, however, debris along its orbital path forms a shallower angle to Earth’s orbital path, meaning that we begin to face into the debris field as early as 9 or 10 pm. Meteors will seem to ‘radiate’ from the constellation Gemini, hence the name of the shower. However, they may appear anywhere in the sky. 

As always, you see more meteors the farther you are from big city lights which hide dimmer ones. Our George Observatory will be open from 5pm to midnight Saturday night, December 13 for observing this meteor shower. Midnight is about when the Moon, approaching last quarter phase, will rise.

Click here for the Burke baker Planetarium Schedule.

On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory, you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer.  If you’re there, listen for my announcement. 

Clear Skies!


Educator How-To: Making your own Samurai sword

Editor’s note: This blog post was contributed by Kathleen Havens, HMNS Assistant Director of Youth Education.

Feudal Japan’s government depended on a warrior class, called Samurai, for over 600 years.

Individual samurai warriors served a daimyo, powerful warlords that governed individual regions throughout Japan. At the pinnacle of this loyal and highly trained group of warriors was the shogun, to which each daimyo was subject. The shogun paid ceremonial reverence to the emperor of Japan, but, in reality, wielded ultimate political power over all of Japan.

One of the few, most prized, and iconic, possessions of a samurai was his sword, known as the katana. This sword, sometimes referred to as the soul of the samurai, was often a family heirloom, passed down, from father to son, for generations. These swords were special, made by highly-skilled artisans, they were highly versatile and could be used to slash and to stab, which made them unique for their time.

Check out this video from National Geographic about the katana: 


Make a Model Katana

Samurai Blog 1




  1. Using the picture provided as a reference, sketch out a curved-shaped blade on a piece of cardboard and carefully cut it out.
  2. Next, create a hand guard, known as a tsuba, by drawing a circle or square shape on a piece of thick paper and cutting it out. Make a slit, using your scissors, in the middle of the tsuba, large enough to slide the bottom of the sword through.
  3. Decorate your tsuba using markers or crayons. You can find examples here for inspiration.
  4. Using the remaining stiff paper, cut a rectangle that is approximately 7’’ x 4’’; this will be the hilt of the sword. Fold the rectangle so that the end of the sword can fit in the middle.
  5. Slide the tsuba on and then the hilt; staple the hilt in place.
  6. Use markers and ribbon to decorate the hilt of the sword.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening this week (12/1-12/7) at HMNS

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Go behind-the-scenes of our offsite collections storage facility or tour one of our exhibits in the five behind-the-scenes tours offered this week, sharpen your survival skills (and an arrowhead and stone knife) in the adult education class ‘Creating Stone Age Tools’, and explore India with the last World Trekkers event of the year – this week at HMNS.

shrunken head
View shrunken heads from the Amazon up close in our Behind-the-Scenes tour of our Offsite Collections Storage facility. 

Behind-the-Scenes Offsite Collections Storage
Monday, December 1
1:30 p.m. & 6:00 p.m.
Millions of artifacts and specimens are housed at the Museum’s offsite collections storage. For the first time ever, HMNS is allowing the public to tour this facility. Participants will see old favorites no longer on display, like the shrunken heads from the Amazon, and new acquisitions that have not been seen by the public yet, including a giant African elephant. This truly behind-the-scenes tour of the museum collections will be led by Lisa Rebori, HMNS VP of collections. Participants will meet at HMNS and ride van to the offsite facility. This program is limited to adults and children age 12 and older. Reservations are required in advance. Space is very limited. Click here for tickets.

Behind-the-Scenes – Fabergé: From A Snowflake To An Iceberg
Wednesday, December 3
6:00 p.m.
This new installation of the McFerrin Collection includes over 150 new objects. The exhibition is designed to tell the history of Imperial Russia through the works of the Fabergé master craftsman and highlight the different types of items made by Fabergé – from showy fashion statements to opulent utilitarian items – all made with Fabergé’s hallmark beauty and precision. Tour this remarkable collection with HMNS master docents. Click here for tickets.

Behind-the-Scenes – Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife
Wednesday, December 3
6:00 p.m.
Walk through the different biomes of Texas that feature the flora and fauna of these distinct areas that are unique to Texas. Learn of the animals that are featured in the exhibition – some who flourish in these areas, and others who are endangered or extinct. Museum master docents will be your guide through the new Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife. Click here for tickets.

Behind-the-Scenes – Shark!
Thursday, December 4
6:00 p.m.
Learn about the important roles sharks play in ecosystems and about their unique physical characteristics in the Shark! touch tank experience. Museum biologists will lead this special after-hours, hands-on tour. Click here for tickets.

Behind-the-Scenes – Samurai: The Way of the Warrior
Thursday, December 4
6:00 p.m.
Witness the exquisite objects related to the legendary Samurai warriors of Japan in the special exhibition Samurai: The Way of the Warrior. Museum master docents will lead you through the collection that includes full suits of armor, helmets, swords, sword-hilts, and saddles, as well as exquisite objects intended for more personal use such as lacquered writing boxes, incense trays and foldable chairs. Click here for tickets.

Class – Creating Stone Age Tools
Thursday, December 4
6:00 p.m.
Discover how antler, stone and bone can be used to fashion a Paleolithic survival knife through proper percussion and pressure methods. Learn how to make an arrowhead by pressure alone and a simple stone knife using traditional hand tools. Your lithic art is yours to keep for your collection. Paleolithic archaeologist Gus Costa will teach the prehistoric skills needed to master the ancient art of stone tool making. All materials, tools and safety equipment will be provided. Participants must be at least 15 years of age. Click here for tickets.

Orion First Flight Viewing
George Observatory
Thursday, December 4
4:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. 
The George Observatory will be free to the general public for the viewing of Orion’s first flight. 

World Trekkers – India
Friday, December 5
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Leave the luggage at home, you can explore India right from HMNS’ Grand Hall with World Trekkers this December! Our last World Trekkers event of this year will transport you to India with Bollywood dance performances, rangoli display, photo ops with cultural icons, traditional Indian cuisine, and much more! Click here for more info. 
Also, don’t miss the screening of the Disney Classic The Jungle Book at World Trekkers at 7:00 p.m.

Holiday Trunk Show – Rebecca Lankford 
Saturday, December 6
12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. 
Favorite local designer Rebecca Lankford is back! With hand cast metals, fine leathers, and a casual take on gems like raw diamonds and South Sea pearls, Rebecca’s designs have earned her a devoted Houston following.Click here for more information on upcoming trunk shows.