Southwest Montana Astronomical Society

Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • Comet Lulin

    Posted on February 24th, 2009 No comments

    Great job Robert, and thanks for your hard work on the web site!

    I may temporarily be without big glass, but that hasn’t stifled by my interest in comets.  I took my Nikon D70 out tonight and with a 300mm zoom lens was able to capture Comet Lulin. . . at least I think. . . maybe this picture is M100!   I expected it  to be significantly brighter.  But then, I was not very far outside of Butte, so the skys were not real dark.\I’ll post a heavily processed image when I figure out how!  (exposure details:  f4.6, ~2min, 300mm (maybe a bit less), from a spot about 2 miles SE of Butte, MT, about 11:30PM. 21FEB09)  It looks like I have created a new gallery named Comet Lulin into which I have stuffed a snap shot from tonight’s session.

  • Pasley Telescope Update

    Posted on February 21st, 2009 Robert Banfill No comments

    Work on the Laura D. Pasley Telescope continues and is nearing completion.  Today I spent a few hours with SMAS President Dr. Richard Sabo installing digital setting circles in his workshop.  Aside from some cable routing and other small details, work on the telescope structure is complete.

    The last major task is the resurfacing of the mirror.  After a careful cleaning it is clear that this will be required.  Dr. Sabo is working with various SMAS members to make a determination as to who we will choose to resurface the mirror.  Once resurfacing is completed, this wonderful instrument will once again provide awesome views of the cosmos for all to see.

    I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this effort but particularly our President and Vice President for restoring and this beautiful instrument to better than new condition.  I am really looking forward to putting my eye to the eyepiece.  Cheers…

  • Gravitational Waves

    Posted on February 21st, 2009 Robert Banfill No comments

    Dr. Neil Cornish presented the second in our winter lectures series, Gravitational Waves: A new way of seeing the Universe, to a nearly packed house in the Hager Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies this evening.  It is clear that his work, along with his colleagues in this new branch of astronomy, will bring a deep new understanding about our Universe in the very near future.

    Dr. Neil Cornish

    Dr. Neil Cornish

    His explanation of how observations of gravitational waves will complement electromagnetic observations and how this will help to resolve uncertainties and gaps in our current understanding of the cosmos was both comprehensive and understandable.  This lecture was enlightening on many levels and definitely helped me to understand what gravitational waves are and what we will learn from them.

    I want to thank Dr. Cornish, SMAS, The Museum of the Rockies, the Montana Space Grant Consortium, and everyone who came out this evening for making this event possible.  We wish him success in his work and hope that he will come back again soon and keep us all up to date on the progress in the new and exciting field.  Cheers…

  • Stars Over Yellowstone

    Posted on February 19th, 2009 Richard Sabo No comments

    The August “Stars Over Yellowstone” will be held August 21 – 22 at Madison Campground in Yellowstone Park.

    Jim Manning, Executive Director of the Astonomical Society of the Pacific, will talk at the campground amphitheater followed by a public “Star Party” in the meadow behind the amphitheater.  Bring your own telescope or use one of the clubs.

    Prior to becoming Executive Director of ASP, Jim was the Head of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Mr. Manning has worked in the planetarium field for many years, as Director of the Taylor Planetarium (Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT), Director of the Staerkel Planetarium (Parkland College, Champaign, IL), and Assistant Director of the Morehead Planetarium (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC). He holds a BS degree in Mathematics and Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin and an MA in Physics and Astronomy from the University of North Carolina. He is a member of many planetarium and education organizations, and served as President of the International Planetarium Society from 1995-96.

  • Stars Over Yellowstone

    Posted on February 19th, 2009 Richard Sabo 1 comment

    The June “Stars Over Yellowstone” will be held June 19-20 at Madison Campground in Yellowstone Park.

    Ryan Hannahoe from MSU’s Space Public Outreach Team will give a presentation entitled, “Listening to the Universe” at the campground amphitheater. Following the talk, a public “Star Party” in the meadow behind the amphitheater will occur.  Bring your own telescope or use one of the clubs.

  • Bozeman Meets Haleakala

    Posted on February 19th, 2009 Charlie Rose 2 comments

    I have just returned from Maui Hawaii today and wanted to post here about one of my adventures while there.  I had only found out I was going to Hawaii a few weeks before I left. While talking to a friend who had been to Maui a few times, he mentioned that Haleakala (The highest point on Maui) had some observatories on it.  This got me to thinking maybe I could go see one of these observatories in action.  When I Googled “Haleakala Observatories” , however, I couldn’t seem to come up with anything that was open to the public.

    Not to be deterred, I thought I’d get on the phone with a Local who might know something.  So wouldn’t ya know it, there was a Google hit for the “Haleakala Amateur Astronomers” (HAA), and when I looked up the President of the organization Rob Ratkowski, a phone number came up.  So I dialed the number, really only with the intention of getting some local dirt on what was up on top that I could see, and maybe some information about where I could go and observe using my 20X80 binoculars.

    Little did I know how well this could possibly go. Rob was incredibly gracious with his time on the phone telling me about Haleakala and the viewing site which the HAA uses located up in the space observatory campus at top of the mountain.  He asked that we stay in touch so he could help me do some observing when I got to Maui. When I did some research, it turned out to be a full moon on the day I arrived in Maui, February 10th, booooooo. So my flexibility came down to a 1 night go or no-go on Sunday night the 15th,  before my Tuesday departure. Moon rise was at 0030 on that night. 

    As is so rarely the case in these situations, the Star Gazing Gods smiled upon me and provided a clear, although breezy, forecast for Sunday. When I called Rob the day before, he thought it would be a good idea if I stopped by his place on the way up the  mountain and took him along….who was I to argue? Dress warm was Robs warning.

    With my binoculars in tow, I made it to Robs house at 4:30 to head up the volcano.  We drove up, and up, and up, it turns out the road holds the record for being the greatest elevation gain in the shortest distance, 10,000 feet in 38 miles. At the top we arrived at the observatory area which is dominated by a US Airforce facility.  Around the one side and across from the 2 meter Faulkes scope is the site used by the HAA. 

    2 Meter Faulkes Scope

    2 Meter Faulkes Scope

    When we arrived, the people who run the 2 meter Faulkes were there doing some work which allowed us the opportunity to make a quick tour, since some sort of calibration was going on, the area inside the dome was dark, but a few quick pictures were allowed. Although not a huge scope, I was impressed with the scale of the equipment. Heavy duty best describes everything. The Faulkes scope is used for educational purposes. Teachers in the UK can sign up their class for scope time and run the scope remotely from the classroom.
    Then we walked around the site for 15 minutes or so getting views in all directions and snapping some photos.
    Sunset & Venus over Faulkes 2 meter

    Sunset & Venus over Faulkes 2 meter

    Looking east with Mauna Kea in the distance

    Looking east with Mauna Kea in the distance

    Looking west over Airforce Space Surveillance Center

    Looking west over Airforce Space Surveillance Center

    After the tour we set up Robs 9.5 inch scope at the site to get ready for the nights viewing and also got out a 12 inch mead dobsonian to play with as well.  If you go to visit the site, HAA only asks that you bring along a state flag to put on the wall of the kitchen.  So after the scopes were set we tacked a Montana state flag to the wall which I had brought and ate a snack in the main room of the observing site.  HAA has a great set-up using buildings which were  left behind when various scientific programs were either moved or abandoned.  They have a heated building with a kitchen, main room, and bathroom. In neighboring small buildings they have set up cots for overnight stays and have a lot of storage.
    HAA Kitchen with State Flags

    Charlie in the HAA Kitchen with State Flags

    It gets down to 35 degrees or so this time of year at 10,000 feet, even in a tropical paradise, so we bundled up. Winds were forecast to be 15-20 mph with gusts to 30.  The meteorologists in Hawaii must have gone to the same school as those in Montana cause the winds were a gentle 5 mph with 10 mph gusts once in a great while.
    Rob Ratkowski setting up the .24 Meter Scope

    Rob Ratkowski setting up the .24 Meter Scope

    After our snack, it was completely dark outside.  Wow.  This is what a night sky should look like.  Venus was very bright to the point of being an annoyance.  The Zodiacal light was glowing strong in the west, I never imagined it to be so prominent in the sky, it looked like the Milky Way does here in Montana. We looked at Venus first through Robs 9.5 inch scope and it was a great view, just a perfect moon shape hanging there.  Then we looked at the Orion Nebula with the 9.5 & 12 inch, the details were amazing, in the 12 inch with a 50mm eyepiece, it looked 3D.  Andromeda was great to see as well, I was looking for the small satellite galaxy which hangs just below Andromeda itself and was having a tough time, until I realized I had the wide field 50mm eyepiece in….Andromeda was filling the eyepiece brightly from edge to edge, and the satellite was reduced to a small speck of a smudge right at the edge of the disc.  M81, a personal favorite of mine, looked  incredible, far brighter than I have ever seen, it looked great with the 25mm eyepiece.  When Saturn rose, we put the 9.5 on it and again it took on a new life for me.  It was so steady to look at, and in it’s current edge-on aspect, was a neat sight, it just makes you have to smile.  In the scope you could see a bit of banding, and the shadow cast by the very narrow ring was visible as well giving it a real 3d effect. I spent a few hours looking at everything I could think of, the Crab Nebula, Owl Nebula, and a slew of galaxies.  I spent time looking at the southern part of the Milky Way with my binoculars, Eta Carinae and NGC3532 were fun to see.  I have to say, I think I’m going to give up on the Crab Nebula.  Even with the great viewing conditions, it was completely underwhelming, a dim smudge epitomized.

    So at 12:15, after 5 solid hours of viewing, with a moonrise eminent, and me starting to feel the “You’ve seen one dim fuzzy, you’ve seen them all”  attitude creep into my psyche, we decided to wrap up.  The grand finale was seeing the Southern Cross (Crux) rising above the horizon as we drove out of the complex, that was a highlight for me since I hadn’t ever seen it before and have always heard of it.  Another fun thing, Rob told me to open the empty water bottles in my car, then cap them tightly.  As we drove down the mountain, the barometric pressure rise crushed the bottles to half flat.

    Much thanks to Rob for all his generosity and the photo’s he took. The experience is one I certainly will not forget.  My only apprehension is that having seen how terrific viewing conditions make such a huge difference, I may now be jaded against our local conditions.  All told however, this is something I’m willing to live with.

  • Yellowstone Club Winter Lecture

    Posted on February 16th, 2009 Lynn Powers 2 comments

    Timberline LodgeSMAS gets contacted several times throughout the year for outreach programs with various local groups.   We love these opportunities to share our passion and hobby of astronomy with the public.  As usual, I jumped at the chance when I got a call from the Yellowstone Club asking if I could bring my scope and do a talk for their Winter Lecture Series.   The site was the Timberline Cafe at 9,375 feet, accessible by snocat.  Our outreach events are more rewarding when we connect with the people, and the group that I had was great.  Even though there was a bit of snow falling, the clouds parted and I was able to give sky tours for a brief moment.  I brought along some of the Night Sky Network tool kits and was able to fill in the time with several activities.  With Comet Lulin coming into view in the next few weeks, I talked about comets and passed out star maps to show the audience how to find Comet Lulin when they are at home.

  • Board Meeting

    Posted on February 12th, 2009 Robert Banfill No comments

    The SMAS board will meet in the board room at the Museum of the Rockies and Friday, Feburary 13 and 7:00 PM.

  • Irving School ’09

    Posted on February 12th, 2009 Robert Banfill No comments

    Despite the cloudy weather, there was a pretty good turnout for the event at the Irving School last night.  We had more telescopes than we knew what to do with and many club members showed up to help out.  Even though there where early hopes of seeing the Great Nebula in Orion and maybe even the Pleiades, all we got to see was Venus which was bright enough to power through the high clouds in the southwest.

    But then there was the portable planetarium, hosted by Fred’s daughter Brigitte and Lynn Powers.  There were gaggles of kids, young and old, that enjoyed the planetarium show along with lots of cookies and brownies and hot chocolate and occasional views of Venus.

    Thanks to all of the club members who turned out and helped with things and thanks to all of the parents, children, and staff at Irving School for inviting us to share this evening with them.  Cheers…

  • Pasley Telescope Refresh

    Posted on February 7th, 2009 Robert Banfill 2 comments

    The Laura D. Pasley Memorial Telescope, the club’s venerable 20″ Star Splitter, has been long overdue for major maintenance and a few enhancements.  Our President, Dr. Richard Sabo, and Vice-president, Charlie Rose, have been quietly working away on these tasks for some time now.

    Beyond the much needed maintenance and cleaning, the scope will now be equiped with digital setting circles.  This is a truly awesome instrument and it is wonderful to see it getting the tender loving care that it deserves.  I for one am really looking forward to completion of this work.  We’ll keep you posted as things progress. Cheers…