Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • YVAA is back!

    Over the past several months, SMAS has been contacted by different people in the Billings area asking if we knew anything about the Yellowstone Valley Astronomical Association or how to contact their board members. Together we did some research and hunted down some answers. On Saturday, November 12th at 3:00 p.m. at the Billings Public Library ( 510 N Broadway), the new YVAA will hold its first meeting. A guest speaker will give a talk on the James Webb Space Telescope and an update on the Artemis 1 mission. This will be immediately followed by a general club meeting for those interested in the YVAA. This is free and open to the public. SMAS is excited to see YVAA back up and running.

  • JWST resources

    Here are some of the websites that we like to use for information about the James Webb Space Telescope mission, as well as their image releases.

    JWST Fact Sheet:

    JWST website and Gallery:

    NASA JWST Mission Page:

    JWST at NASA Goddard:

    European Space Agence and JWST:

    Canadian Space Agency and JWST:

    Toolbox to download and analyze the JWST pictures yourself:

    Where is the JWST:

    JWST side by side comparison to Hubble images:

    Deep Space Network:

    JWST STEM toolkit:

    JWST Gallery, media videos:

    NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System:

    Archive, Hubble Mosaics:

  • SMAS March Winter Lecture Series

    Join us Thursday March 3, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. via zoom.

    The SMAS Winter Lecture Series continues, we will be joined by Jack Howard who will give a zoom presentation starting at 7:00 p.m. 
    “Hello Out There – Anybody Home?” – the search for intelligent life among nearby planetary systems.  
    One of the mission directives for the James Webb Space Telescope is to look for exoplanets, so this seems timely. 
    Jack Howard first became interested in astronomy and space exploration when Sputnik was launched, Echo I crossed the night sky, and the race to the Moon began. He earned a BS in physics and math at King College and a master’s degree in astronomy from James Cook University. In 2000, he started the astronomy program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina, where he teaches physics and astronomy. Since then, he has shared the wonders of space and the excitement of discovery with diverse groups in the Charlotte (NC) area. Jack is a member of the Charlotte astronomy club. His main interests are solar system exploration, exoplanet research, human space flight, and cosmology.

  • What was your first telescope?

  • SMAS February Winter Lecture Series

    Thursday, February 3rd: SMAS Club meeting via zoom, starting at 7:00 p.m.
    Guest Speaker Vannessa Gressieux will give a tour of the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona. More info to come when we get closer to this event.

  • SMAS January winter lecture series

    Thursday, January 13th: SMAS Club meeting via zoom, starting at 7:00 p.m.
    Guest speaker and Solar System Ambassador Pat Monteith will give a presentation “Back to the Moon and on to Mars”

    On July 20, 1969, the whole world held its breath and stood still as NASA Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface; everyone erupted in a worldwide celebration as the two space pilots touched down onto the Sea of Tranquility. Now, more than 50 years later, the US is still benefiting from the six Apollo moon-landing missions. The International Space Station was the next focus for many years, but as recently as 2015, NASA laid out plans to land humans on Mars by 2030.  This undertaking changed a few years ago and NASA has since realized it might make more sense to first go back to the Moon.  Learn about NASA’s plans to develop a sustainable infrastructure on the Moon and how they plan to use a new powerful rocket, spacecraft, and a moon-orbiting gateway to eventually fly humans to Mars. 

  • Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival 2021

  • SMAS March club meeting

    Join us on zoom, Thursday, March 4, 2021, starting at 7:00 p.m. as we welcome Sally Jensen, Solar System Ambassador for her talk on the Mars 2020 Mission and see what Pereverane is doing now that it has safely landed on Mars. Followed by Question and Answer time.

  • Great Conjunction 2020

    The Great Conjunction of 2020


    This Summer, majestic planets Jupiter and Saturn sat high in the southern sky, and since that time they have traveled as a pair down towards the southwest with each successive night. Soon they will set below the horizon and after a short winter break, reemerge next Spring low in the southeast. Hopefully, you have noticed that the two planets have also been getting closer and closer to one another as the months’ pass. Because Jupiter’s orbital speed is greater than Saturn’s, it moves faster along the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system) and will soon overtake the ringed planet. On December 21st, the two will have a brief, but significant meeting in the night sky.

    Since the Sun, Moon, and planets all move along the ecliptic upon the celestial sphere, we get to witness a number of “close encounters” between various objects in the night sky throughout the year. Of course, this is just a matter of perspective, as they are all still quite distant from one another once “depth” is added into the equation. Astronomers call these apparent get-togethers between the Moon and planets, multiple planets, and even planets and bright stars, “conjunctions.” The Great Conjunction of 2020:While there have been a number of wonderful conjunctions this year, all pale in comparison to what will be taking place in the early evening hours of December 21st. In fact, a meeting of this significance is called a “Great Conjunction.” And great it is! Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest planets in our solar system, will have an angular distance from one another of just 1/10th of a degree! To put that into perspective, that’s the relative *thickness* of a dime held at arm’s length. In fact, the two planets will be so close to one another, they will initially appear “as one” to the unaided eye. Upon inspection, those with good visual acuity should be able to separate the two even with the glaring brightness of Jupiter. All the same, you may wish to have a pair of binoculars or a telescope on hand. Whatever you do, don’t miss this amazing conjunction, as it is the closest the two have been in 397 years! We are fortunate to have another like Great Conjunction this century, but in the year 2080, it might be a bit too long to wait for many of us.

    Where and When:

    Jupiter and Saturn, once high in the late evening sky, are now setting earlier and earlier. By Monday the 21st, they will already be visible low in the Southwest sky during the hours of Civil and Astronomical Dusk, between 5:20 and 7:00 pm MST. The pair will set shortly after that but will probably be lost from view well before that time at your horizon. On Monday the 21st, go outside around 5:20 pm MST, preferably in a location with a clear view of the southwest horizon, and look about 15° above the sky-line. It may take a few moments to find them this early, but should come into view as they will be the first and brightest “star” in the area. Depending on your location, you will have just about one hour to enjoy this amazing astronomical event. It should be noted, that the day before and the day after, Jupiter and Saturn are nearly the same distance, so you really have three days to experience the Great Conjunction should the weather be an issue.

    Telescopic Views:

    If you are fortunate enough to have a telescope on hand, a magnification of 75x to 275x will be able to present both planets within the same field of view. Note, however, the *quality* of view will not only depend on your equipment but the state of the atmosphere as well. Unfortunately, with the two planets being so close to the horizon, atmospheric refraction will be an issue.

    A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will also give you a close-up view of this event. Enjoy!

  • November SMAS update

     Sorry for the late notice for our virtual meeting this month – which happens to be tomorrow night!  Luisa has offered to do a talk for us, but tomorrow she is doing an online talk for the George Mason Observatory.  The Universe in the Infrared – Spitzer’s final voyage.  Starts at 8 p.m. Eastern/ 6 p.m. Mountain. 
    This page has more information:
    Along with the log on information: 
    To join this Evenings Under the Stars session and future sessions, here is the Zoom meeting connection info:
    Meeting ID: 929 6449 9451
    I’m sharing that page with you so you can log into other talks in the future. 
    We’ll get Luisa for our club member meeting after the new year.  

    Also, there is another online talk on Friday night that looks interesting, too: The first portrait of a black hole and beyond. 
    Caltech virtual lecture series Friday 11/6 starting at 7:pm Pacific time/ 8 p.m. Mountain
    It will be a youtube live event from the Caltech Astro page
    Again this site has past events in their archive – things to keep you busy for a very long time. 

    Next month is our year-end holiday pot luck and elections meeting.  Considering how the numbers are ramping up, we are considering a virtual pot luck SMAS member meeting.  Let us know your thoughts.