Southwest Montana Astronomical Society

Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • NASA needs your help!

    Posted on April 23rd, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flies by Pluto this July, the spacecraft’s high-resolution cameras will spot many new landforms on the dwarf planet’s unexplored surface.  There could be mountains, craters, rilles, valleys and, of course, the unknown.

    They are all going to need names—and NASA wants you to help.

    The public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its moons.  The naming campaign was announced in March, and now it is being extended because of widespread interest.

    Follow this link for  more information: Help name features on Pluto

    Click on picture to enlarge

  • No Place Like Home

    Posted on April 6th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    NASA Celebrates Earth Day with #NoPlaceLikeHome Event

    This Earth Day, April 22, NASA is asking people around the world to share pictures and videos on social media that show there is no place like home – planet Earth.

    NASA’s Earth Day #NoPlaceLikeHome project seeks to get the public involved in highlighting the great diversity of the places, landscapes and ecosystems of our home planet. Participants are invited to post photos and videos that answer a simple question: What is your favorite place on Earth?

    Images can be shared using the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr. Leading up to Earth Day, NASA will participate by posting its own images and videos.

    NASA’s mission includes exploring beyond Earth and using the vantage point of space to improve our understanding of the most complex planet we’ve seen yet. The agency’s Earth-observing satellites, airborne research and field campaigns are designed to observe our planet’s dynamic systems – oceans, ice sheets, forests and atmosphere – and improve our ability to understand how our planet is changing and could change.

    For more information on the #NoPlaceLikeHome project, visit:

  • Messier Marathon and Hubble’s 25th Anniversary

    Posted on March 28th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    SMAS has planned two events for April.

    April 18th is a member only Messier Marathon.  We will be sending out emails via the Night Sky Network SMAS members list. Information on Messier Marathons can be found on the Messier tab on the top ribbon of this page.  Want to join SMAS?  Follow the information on the top tab for “Join SMAS”.

    On April 25th starting at 7:00 p.m. in the large conference room at the Bozeman Public Library we will have the Hubble Space Telescope 25th Anniversary Celebration. 


  • March 2015 SMAS meeting

    Posted on March 20th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    Join SMAS for our March meeting on Friday March 27th, starting at 7:00 p.m. at the Bozeman Fire Station #3, see map in post below.  Our program will be presented by Joe Witherspoon of the Cottontail Observatory and SMAS Vice President.  Building on our skills that we learned in February using a sky map and planisphere, we will learn how to navigate the night sky.  This is in preparation for the April 18th Messier Marathon (for SMAS club members only) event.

    A look ahead: April events.  Saturday April 18th – Members only Messier Marathon event.  Saturday April 25th – Come to the Bozeman Public Library to celebrate 25 years of Hubble. History and current information on the Hubble Space Telescope.

  • Where do satellites go when they die?

    Posted on March 18th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    fireball over western Montana 2/23/2015 On February 23rd, a Chinese satellites orbit degraded and it came to a flaming end over Montana.  Which raises the question, what happens to satellites after they are no longer viable?  Since there was an Aurora alert that night, several observers were out and documented the fireball.  We aren’t always as lucky to see satellites end in such a spectacular way.  So, where do old satellites go to die? Countries and commercial ventures have been putting spacecraft in orbit around Earth since the late 1950s. There must be a lot of space junk out there. So what happens to them when they no longer work? Find out more at:

    Debris field from February 23, 2015 over western Montana

  • February SMAS Meeting

    Posted on February 16th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments

    Is it February already!  Time is going by fast.  I spent the past week in Chicago for a Heliophysics workshop.  More activities for us to do at outreach events this summer.

    Our February SMAS meeting will be back at FIRE STATION #3, located at the regional park. We are hoping for clear skies. We will start our meeting inside then head out to view the sky. We will learn how to use a star map and plansphere. How to navigate the night sky.

    See you Friday February 27th at 7:00 p.m.

    Fire Department #3

  • January 2015 SMAS meeting

    Posted on January 13th, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments


    On Friday January 30th join SMAS for a telescope class.  So, you got a new telescope for Christmas — Now what?

    Bring your scope to the Bozeman Public Library, 6:30 for an introductory class.  We’ll go over basics and if the weather is nice we’ll head out and look for Comet Lovejoy and other objects.   This will be followed by a brief talk starting at 7:30.

    ASTRONOMY FRONTIERS: 25 years ago and 25 years from now
    Shane L. Larson
    Northwestern University & Adler Planetarium

    Astronomy is always on the move, a constantly changing landscape of knowledge, mysteries, questions and answers.  Over the past 400 years, the field of astronomy has evolved rapidly, driven largely by the evolution of technology, a fact that is as true for professional astronomers as it is for amateur astronomers!  In this talk, we’ll discuss the tapestry of astronomical technology and knowledge 25 years ago, examine how our perceptions of the Cosmos have changed dramatically in the short time since then, and speculate wildly on what the future may hold.

  • SMAS in 2015

    Posted on January 1st, 2015 Lynn Powers No comments
    To give you an Idea of what we are planning for the year: 
    • January SMAS meeting –  How to set up your new telescope
    • February SMAS meeting – The night sky and how to use a planesphere
    • March SMAS meeting – Star Hopping and Messier objects
    • APRIL SMAS MEMBERS – Messier Marathon
    • May SMAS events – Potluck and plan out Astrofair
    • June SMAS events – Astrofair, Summer equinox and Stars over Bozeman star party
    • July SMAS events – Stars over Bozeman star party and 2nd annual International SUN-day
    • August SMAS events – Montana Star Watch, Stars over Bozeman star party and Sweet Pea stomp rockets
    • September SMAS meeting – Meteor showers and comets, 5th annual International Observe the Moon Night
    • October SMAS meeting – tbd
    • Nov/Dec SMAS meeting – Elections and potluck

    2015 is the Centennial of General Relativity and the International Year of Light, watch for upcoming events

  • November\December SMAS meeting

    Posted on November 18th, 2014 Lynn Powers No comments

    We combine our November and December meetings, so our next meeting will be on Friday December 5, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. We will be meeting at the Bozeman Fire Station #3 located off of Davis Drive between Babcock and Oak Streets.  Enter in by the flag pole.  Contact  me if you need directions.  We will announce election results and finish off with a potluck.  SMAS will provide the main dish, members are asked to bring a side dish, salad, or dessert to share.

    UPDATE:  It was a fabulous potluck with great food and conversations. It was nice to catch up with everyone and share what is going on with our shared hobby.  We talked about new scopes and old scopes, we discussed astrophotography and the new Orion Mission that went up today – history in the making!   Here is a screen shot from shortly after take off this morning 12/5/14.  I watched the event on NASA tv. 

  • Where the Heavenliest of Showers Come From

    Posted on November 12th, 2014 Lynn Powers No comments

    By Dr. Ethan Siegel

    You might think that, so long as Earth can successfully dodge the paths of rogue asteroids and comets that hurtle our way, it’s going to be smooth, unimpeded sailing in our annual orbit around the sun. But the meteor showers that illuminate the night sky periodically throughout the year not only put on spectacular shows for us, they’re direct evidence that interplanetary space isn’t so empty after all!

    When comets (or even asteroids) enter the inner solar system, they heat up, develop tails, and experience much larger tidal forces than they usually experience. Small pieces of the original object—often multiple kilometers in diameter—break off with each pass near the sun, continuing in an almost identical orbit, either slightly ahead-or-behind the object’s main nucleus. While both the dust and ion tails are blown well off of the main orbit, the small pieces that break off are stretched, over time, into a diffuse ellipse following the same orbit as the comet or asteroid it arose from. And each time the Earth crosses the path of that orbit, the potential for a meteor shower is there, even after the parent comet or asteroid is completely gone!

    This relationship was first uncovered by the British astronomer John Couch Adams, who found that the Leonid dust trail must have an orbital period of 33.25 years, and that the contemporaneously discovered comet Tempel-Tuttle shared its orbit. The most famous meteor showers in the night sky all have parent bodies identified with them, including the Lyrids (comet Thatcher), the Perseids (comet Swift-Tuttle), and what promises to be the best meteor shower of 2014: the Geminids (asteroid 3200 Phaethon). With an orbit of only 1.4 years, the Geminids have increased in strength since they first appeared in the mid-1800s, from only 10-to-20 meteors per hour up to more than 100 per hour at their peak today! Your best bet to catch the most is the night of December 13th, when they ought to be at maximum, before the Moon rises at about midnight.

    The cometary (or asteroidal) dust density is always greatest around the parent body itself, so whenever it enters the inner solar system and the Earth passes near to it, there’s a chance for a meteor storm, where observers at dark sky sites might see thousands of meteors an hour! The Leonids are well known for this, having presented spectacular shows in 1833, 1866, 1966 and a longer-period storm in the years 1998-2002. No meteor storms are anticipated for the immediate future, but the heavenliest of showers will continue to delight skywatchers for all the foreseeable years to come!

    What’s the best way to see a meteor shower? Check out this article to find out:

    Kids can learn all about meteor showers at NASA’s Space Place:  

    Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / W. Reach (SSC/Caltech), of Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3, via NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, 2006.