Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • Celebrating Einstein

    The Southwest Montana Astronomical Society presents Celebrating Einstein for the 2013 Winter Lecture Series.  

    NEW lecture added:  Friday March 1st at the Emerson starting at 7:00 p.m.  NOTE DIFFERENT LOCATION FROM USUAL

    Join us this Friday February 22nd at the Museum of the Rockies starting  at 7:00 p.m.

    A Shout through Space and Time: Einstein’s Legacy Join MSU Assistant Professor Nico Yunes as he describes Einstein’s gravitational waves and how they encode the secrets of black holes – as well as, neutron stars and our current efforts to detect them and verify Einstein’s last untested prediction. Yunes is one of the newest members of he MSU physics department and was an Einstein Fellow at MIT before coming to Montana.

    This event is open to the public and free.


    For more info on MSU’s Celebrating Einstein, visit:

  • February 2013 Winter Lecture Series

    A Shout through Space and Time: Einstein’s Legacy 
    Friday, February 22, 7pm Hager Auditorium

    In 1905 and then again in 1915, a young office clerk put forth several revolutionary ideas that would soon shake the foundations of physics.  Albert Einstein elevated these ideas to physical theories and all of his predictions have come to pass, except one: gravitational waves. These waves are produced in the most violent and energetic events in the Universe, such as when black holes and neutron stars collide, but they have so-far evaded direct detection due to their inherent feebleness. Join MSU Assistant Professor Nico Yunes as he describes Einstein’s gravitational waves and how they encode the secrets of black holes – as well as, neutron stars and our current efforts to detect them and verify Einstein’s last untested prediction. Yunes is one of the newest members of he MSU physics department and was an Einstein Fellow at MIT before coming to Montana.

  • Help name Pluto’s new Moons

    From SETI:   Help Us Name the Moons of Pluto!

    Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2011 and 2012 revealed two previously unknown moons of Pluto. So far, we have been calling them “P4” and “P5”, but the time has come to give them permanent names. If it were up to you, what would you choose?  By tradition, the names of Pluto’s moons come from Greek and Roman mythology, and are related to the ancient tales about Hades and the Underworld.   Alternatively, if you have a great idea for a name that we have overlooked, let us know by filling out the write in form. If you can make a good case for it, we will add it to the list. SETI  will take your votes and suggestions into consideration when we propose the names for P4 and P5 to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Voting ends at noon EST on Monday, February 25th, 2013.
    Visit their website for more information:
  • Science Fun Night

    The Stars Still Talk to Us…
    Next Tuesday, I will attempt to share some fun of the astronomical sky-connections of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel with families at the public library.  Please come! and share this with your friends.  –Ivy

    Family Science Night: Star Wheels  at the Bozeman Public Library on February 19,2013  6:30- 7:30 pm

    Free and open to the public

    In this family science workshop, we will create our own astronomical medicine wheels, patterned after the Big Horn Medicine Wheel that resides at nearly 10,000 ft elevation in the Big Horn Mountains just south of the Montana border.  The Big Horn Medicine Wheel, whose glowing white rocks under starlight and moonlight,  are able to convey the actions of celestial objects throughout vast expanses of time and space.  We will create smaller wheels that can be useful in connecting our own home to the Sun, stars and planets, bringing increased delight and meaning to our evening skywatching. Family members may make individual wheels or work on one together. All ages welcome.

  • Final push for Building Bigger Skies

    The planetarium remodel is almost complete. The final push for raising the last $60,000 of the $1.5 million will take place this coming week with the help of a telethon on KBZK.  During the local 10 p.m. news, members of SMAS, MSGC, MoR, and MSU will man the phones.  When the Taylor Planetarium reopens on March 2, 2013 it will be one of the first planetariums in the US to have an Evans and Sutherland Digistar Five digital planetarium projector. It is the only public planetarium in the state of Montana and in a 400 mile radius.  We are lucky to have such a great facility in our backyard.  Please support the telethon!

  • Light Fight

    A recent article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle is generating a good debate about our dark skies:

    Professor says Baxter sign affects optics research, local companies

    Sign owner says he will turn it off at closing time each night.

    AMANDA RICKER, Chronicle Staff Writer, Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    A professor and optical technology expert at Montana State University says the relighting of the “Hotel Baxter” sign downtown affects MSU’s optics research and Bozeman’s growing optics industry.

    Meanwhile, the sign’s owner says he will try to alleviate some of the concerns by turning the sign off at 1 a.m. each night.

    Joseph Shaw, director of MSU’s Optical Technology Center and a professor of electrical engineering and physics, said light from the bright, red Baxter sign affects sensitive optical receivers being tested on the roof at Cobleigh Hall.

    “We’re sitting on one of the tallest buildings on campus, looking directly over the top of the Baxter,” Shaw said Monday. “It’s like somebody taking a competing light source and holding it up to get as close to our measurements as possible. I know they didn’t design (the sign) to do that, but that’s why it’s a particular problem.”

    Shaw said MSU researchers are inventing new sensors and using them to conduct research ranging from weather forecasting and climate studies to military sensing.

    “These sensors depend on being able to see into the night sky without a lot of extraneous light pollution,” he said.

    Further, Shaw said the research contributes to a growing number of optical technology companies in town, such as ILX Lightwave and Bridger Photonics. Since 1980, he said, more than 24 optics companies have set up shop in Bozeman. And in many cases, Shaw said the companies use technology or ideas developed in concert with the university.

    “So, if we impair the optics research at MSU, we are also impairing the health of the optics companies in town,” he said. “It isn’t an us-versus-them thing. It’s very much an issue that I think is important for the entire community.”

    Shaw said a recent study funded by the governor’s office found that Bozeman optics companies are an up-and-coming component of the Montana economy, as one of the few places in the state where there’s a significant amount of high-tech companies clustered together.

    Bozeman has significantly less light pollution than the average city, Shaw said. People can still look up at night and see the faint band of stars created by the Milky Way or the rare northern lights moving across the sky.

    The city of Bozeman does a better job than most cities in protecting dark skies, Shaw said, but a growing number of streetlights and improper lighting techniques are threatening that status.

    Shaw said in addition to affecting optics research, the Baxter sign and the increasing amount of light pollution in Bozeman affects the Montana Aurora Detector Network, which sends text and email alerts to stargazers when the aurora borealis is occurring.

    Proper lighting techniques include shielded fixtures that point the light down and away from the sky, reduced brightness and restricted color content, Shaw said.

    Shaw and David Loseff, the majority owner of the Baxter, have scheduled a meeting to discuss ways to compromise.

    “We respect the university and are sensitive to these issues,” Loseff said. “Our sign was a 1929 sign, which predated their current project, and I hope (Shaw) can be as sensitive to the history of the community and historic preservation.”

    Loseff said Monday he plans to turn the sign off each night at 1 a.m. when businesses close in the Baxter building. The sign is turned on at 5 p.m.

    Loseff suggested perhaps MSU’s equipment could be tested in more rural areas outside of town.

    “Bozeman is a large and growing community,” he said.

  • 2013 Winter Lecture Series speakers announced

    Friday, January 25
    FROM THE BIG BANG TO GALLATIN VALLEY: The Cosmic biography of atoms
    Shane L. Larson, Assistant Professor of Physics, Utah State University

    Shane Larson will describe the biography of an atom, from the Big Bang to the Gallatin Valley, and explore how the evolution and changes of a single atom can be traced and followed in the lives and deaths of stars.

    Friday February 22
    A Shout through Space and Time: Einstein’s Legacy
    Nico Yunes, Assistant Professor of Physics, Montana State University

    Join Nico Yunes as he describes Einstein’s gravitational waves and how they encode the secrets of black holes – as well as, neutron stars and our current efforts to detect them and verify Einstein’s last untested prediction.

    Wednesday March 27
    Einstein’s Legacy: Studying Gravity in War and Peace
    David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor, MIT

    David Kaiser examines ways in which research on general relativity was embedded in, and at times engulfed by, the tumult of world politics over the course of the twentieth century.

  • Congratulations to Michelle Larson

    Dr. Michelle Larson, Adler President



    CHICAGO (December 11, 2012) The Board of Trustees of the Adler Planetarium has elected accomplished astrophysicist and experienced academic leader Michelle B. Larson, PhD, as president. Dr. Larson will become the Adler’s ninth leader and the first female president of America’s First Planetarium. Her appointment begins January 1, 2013.  As president, Dr. Larson will oversee a 21st century space science center that includes the  institution’s landmark museum complex, exhibition galleries and three theaters; a robust research enterprise; one of the world’s leading collections documenting  the history of science; and an award-winning education and outreach program. Annually, more than  470,000 people visit the Adler, making it one of Chicago’s leading tourist attractions.

    Read the rest of the press release on the Adler’s website.

    Shane adds, This is a highly visible and prominent position; the Adler is the oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, and is one of the more prominent cultural institutions for astronomy education in North America (together with the Hayden Planetarium in New York where Neil deGrasse Tyson is director, and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where Ed Krupp is director).

    Very exciting news, congratulations!

  • SMAS last meeting of 2012

    SMAS combines our November and December meetings to meet the first Friday of December.  We will meet on Friday December 7th at 7:00 in the Redstart room, downstairs at the Museum of the Rockies.

    We will have our Board elections, discuss a few agenda items, and have some year end holiday cheer and social.  See you then!

  • Summer 2013 Montana Starwatch

    Save the date: August 1-4, 2013 for Montana Starwatch.

    The following just came in from Russ and Joe:

    Just wanted to announce that the Starwatch web site is now online and  capable of taking reservations whenever you want to do it. The Ruby Valley site is no longer up. We would like to have the reservations in  by the first of July. Visit it at

     Over Thanksgiving week, we will do some checking on getting WiFi to the site, get a parking map  started to go on the web site, and whatever else we can think of to help  keep light pollution, dust, and traffic to a minimum. 

    Nice going!  Visit their website for more information and pictures. Thanks