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.