Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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    Our popular series of winter lectures returns in 2011, with a lecture on the last Friday night of the month in January, February, and March. The winter lecture series is sponsored by the Southwest Montana Astronomical Society and the Museum of the Rockies. All lectures begin at 7:00, doors open at 6:30, and all are free and open to the public.


    January 28th – IRIS: a Fresh Look at the Solar Chromosphere

    Dr. Charles Kankelborg, MSU Physics Department Space Science and Engineering Laboratory

    The Sun is a fairly typical G-type star, about 4.5 billion years old. Well established stellar models accurately predict the radius, temperature and luminosity of a star of a given mass. Yet the Sun has observable characteristics that are not predicted by any model, including a million degree corona. But to understand the corona, we may first have to understand an older riddle: the solar chromosphere. Ironically, professional and amateur astronomers have been observing the chromosphere (and, in less detail, the chromospheres of other stars) from the ground for more than a century, yet it remains the most enigmatic layer of the Sun’s atmosphere. The NASA IRIS mission, to be launched in 2012, will observe the chromosphere from space in unprecedented detail and explore how the chromosphere interacts with the rest of the Sun’s atmosphere.


    February 25th – Astrobiology: The Search for Life in the Universe

    Dr. John Peters, MSU Director of the Thermal Biology Institute

    How did life begin and evolve? Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? Join MSU Professor John Peters as he examines these questions and explains the search for life in the universe. Peters is also the director of the MSU Astrobiology Biogeocatalysis Center, part of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. Peters will explain why Yellowstone National Park is important to NASA scientists and discuss some of the pioneering research happening in Montana.


    March 25th – Creating the Giant: Fabricating the Mirrors of the European Extremely Large Telescope

    Dr. Christina Dunn, MSU Solar Physics research engineer

    A new generation of astronomical telescopes is taking shape, giants three or four times larger than the world’s current largest telescopes. Bringing these massive designs from theoretical possibility to reality will require a revolution in optical fabrication techniques and technologies, combining the craft traditions of master opticians with the cutting edge in robotic machinery. In this talk, the challenges of creating a telescope mirror wider than the wingspan of a Boeing 737 will be addressed, as well as the solutions that have been devised to meet those challenges.

  • Co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home to give next SMAS lecture!

    Dan Werthimer, co-founder and chief scientist of the SETI@home project, will present “IS ANYBODY OUT THERE? The Search for ET with help from Eight Million Volunteers,” on Friday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m. in the Hager Auditorium at the Museum the Rockies.

    Werthimer will discuss the possibility of life in the universe and the search for radio and optical signals from other civilizations. He will also discuss other citizen science projects, next generation telescopes, instrumentation, and algorithms for SETI, as well as speculate on when earthlings might discover other civilizations.

    Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.

    Sponsors of the lecture include the Montana State University Physics Department, Museum of the Rockies, Montana ESPCoR and Southwest Montana Astronomical Society.

  • “The Discovery of Saturn’s Largest Ring” lecture set for September’s SMAS meeting

    Dr. Anne Verbiscer
    Department of Astronomy
    University of Virginia

    Location: Hager Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies
    Date: September 24th, 2010
    Time: 7:30, doors open at 7:00PM

    Abstract: Recent observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope revealed that Saturn has an enormous outer ring, by far the largest planetary ring in the Solar System. The ring is associated with one of Saturn’s dark, outer moons called Phoebe. The discovery of this huge ring appears to solve an age-old mystery in planetary science. Since its discovery in 1671, astronomers have puzzled over the odd, two-toned appearance of Saturn’s moon Iapetus. One side of the moon is as bright as snow, but the other is dark, like Phoebe. The new ring explains how dark material originally launched from Phoebe moves inward toward Iapetus, slamming one side of the icy moon like bugs on a windshield. Dr. Verbiscer will discuss how she and her team found the ‘Phoebe Ring’ and post-discovery observations.

    Presentation sponsored by:
    Museum of the Rockies, Montana Space Grant Consortium, and Southwest Montana Astronomical Society

  • Stars over Bozeman star parties planned

    The Southwest Montana Astronomical Society (SMAS) is pleased to announce:

    Stars over Bozeman”

    Friday, June 11th , back up date in case of cloud cover June 12th

    Friday, July 16th, back up date  in case of cloud cover July 17th

    Friday, August 13th, back up date in case of cloud cover August 14th

    Setup at 9 pm with viewing by 10:00 pm; with better viewing after 11:00 pm.  These events will be held at the 100 Acre Gallatin Regional Park located on Oak St 1.2 miles west of North 19th Street in Bozeman.

    As a group of amateur astronomers we wish to share our telescopes and knowledge of the night skies to all who wish to attend this free after dark event.  Club telescopes to be used range in size from small traditional 3 inch telescopes to our Pasley Dobsonian which has a 20 inch diameter lens mirror and is close to 8 feet tall, when pointing straight up. This requires the use of a ladder to look into the eyepiece for most people.   We are excited to use the Pasley this summer following a refurbishing project that included having the mirror refinished.

    Bring your own telescope if you wish and members of SMAS will help you to use it.

  • Friday, April 30th – The Sun and Solar Eclipses with Dr. Jay Pasachoff

    “The Sun and Solar Eclipses”

    Solar eclipses are the most spectacular celestial phenomena in which we on Earth can participate.  Prof. Pasachoff, a veteran of 50 solar eclipses, will describe how the outer part of the sun shines and how his studies at the recent eclipses in Greece, Russia, and China have helped our understanding of our nearest star.

    Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College in Massachusetts, is chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Eclipses.

    This lecture will be held at the Museum of the Rockies in the Hager Auditorium.  Doors open at 7:00, the lecture will begin at 7:30. Free and open to the public. The winter lecture series is sponsored by SMAS, MSGC, MSU Physics, and Museum of the Rockies.


  • Astronomy Day – Saturday, April 24th

    Join us for Astronomy Day from 1:00 – 4:00pm at the Museum of the Rockies.
    All events and Museum admission are FREE to the public!


    •        1pm: Opening Remarks
    …Ryan Hannahoe, MSU

    •        1:10pm: Space Travel, Space Research and (yuck) Space Adaption Syndrome
    …Loren Acton, former NASA astronaut

    •        2pm: Listening to the Universe
    …Joey Key, MSU Physics

    •        3pm: Eye on the Big Sky
    …MSU Space Public Outreach Team

    Solar Observing

    (located at the Museum Entrance Plaza)
    weather permitting

    Planetarium Shows

    1pm: Star Signs
    2pm: Lewis & Clark
    3pm: Star Signs

    Kids Activities

    (located within the Redstart Classroom)
    •        Electromagnetic War
    •        Fun with Solar Cookies
    •        Gravity Wave Game
    •        How to Make a Star-Wheel
    •        Science with UV Bead Bracelets


    (located in the main lobby)
    •        Astrobiology Biogeocatalysis Research Center of MSU
    •        Montana Space Grant Consortium
    •        NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER Mission
    •        Solar Physics Research Group of MSU
    •        Southwest Montana Astronomical Society
    •        SPIE Student Chapter of MSU

    Event Sponsors

    Astrobiology Biogeocatalysis Research Center of MSU
    MSU’s Extended University
    Museum of the Rockies
    Solar Physics Research Group of MSU
    Southwest Montana Astronomical Society

  • Fred Birk, Past President of SMAS to speak on VLA

    Fred Birk, past president of SMAS, will give a talk during the March 26th meeting of SMAS. 7:00 in the Redstart room, downstairs at the Museum of the Rockies.  Fred’s talk will be followed by a short club meeting with updates on Stars over Yellowstone, Stars over Bozeman, and the upcoming Astronomy Day event.  Bring a friend!

    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    VLA, The Very Large Array in New Mexico
    Guide Post to the Future
    The talk puts the VLA in context with the radio astronomy world of today and the past.  A detailed narrative of a tour of the entire facility including the inner sanctum of electronics processing.  The audience should walk away from the talk with a good understanding of what radio astronomy is all about.
  • Winter Lecture Series: Mike Murray – Clark Planetarium

    Mike Murray, past member of SMAS and now Programs Manager of the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, will give the second Winter Lecture at the Museum of the Rockies at 7:00PM, doors open at 6:30, Feb. 26th.   His talk is titled: “Seeing in the Dark: Tales of an Amateur Astronomer.”

    Sponsored by SMAS, MSGC, MOR.

    Amateur astronomy has been one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country for the last 20 years.  Why is that?  What gets people so “hooked” on astronomy and the night sky?

    Actually there could be many reasons.  For some, it’s just a naturally fascinating subject.  Look at how many non-science-major college students enroll in introductory astronomy courses to satisfy their general science requirement.  Or maybe it was a camping experience where you saw the Milky Way or a “shooting star” for the first time.  Or something that happened in the space program, like a moon mission, photos from Mars or a Hubble Space Telescope image.

    The reasons may be different, but the inspiration to explore the sky has one common thread – a curiosity to discover more of nature’s secrets and feel a personal connection to the universe.

    High quality observing equipment is now more widely available, and at affordable prices.  But as Mike will show, you don’t have to own a big telescope and lots of computer gear to do amateur astronomy.

    In this talk, Mike Murray (who worked at the Museum of the Rockies’ Taylor Planetarium in the 1990’s) will recount his moments of both inspiration and challenges as an avid amateur astronomer. From naked eye observing to getting your first telescope, Murray will demonstrate that there’s something for every age and any skill level when it comes to star gazing.  Topics covered will include binocular observing, “star hopping,” astronomy clubs, star parties, choosing your first telescope, observing techniques, how to use star charts, and much more.

    Mark your calendar for this outstanding speaker!!

  • Winter Lecture Series: Shane Larson of Utah State Univ.

    Dr. Shane Larson of Utah State University will deliver a lecture discussing ‘CONNECTIONS TO THE COSMOS: The Search for Life Beyond Earth’. This event will be held in the Hagar Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies on the evening of Friday, January 29th. Shane’s lecture will begin promptly at 7PM, and this presentation is free and open to the public.

    Presentation abstract:

    One of the most profound questions for modern scientists is whether or not Earth is unique in all the Cosmos.  Are there other worlds that may bear matter organized into patterns we call “life”?  Will such worlds be similar to our own or extraordinarily different?  In modern astronomy there are two distinct avenues of inquiry into this question: first, do other Earth-like worlds exist, and how might we detect them, and second, if there is life on other worlds what might it be like and how might we communicate with it?

    In this talk we will examine these questions.  Our conversation will range from how we are looking for other worlds that might harbor life, to imagining what strange forms that life might take on, and lastly exploring the scientific principles that would be employed to enable a conversation with other intelligent entities in the Cosmos, our neighbors on another world.

    Funding for the Winter Lecture Series is provided by SMAS, MOR, and MSGC.

  • John Bogard to talk Friday, Oct.30 at SMAS meeting

    John Bognar, past director of MSU’s high altitude scientific balloon program (BOREALIS,) will talk about the current status of high altitude ballooning.
    John has a company (Anasphere) that has developed some radiosonde kits that let students gather their own atmospheric data with sensors they launch on small helium balloons. Their web site summarizes most of the educational work and outreach.