Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • What is the Ionosphere?

    What Is the Ionosphere?

    By Linda Hermans-Killiam
    High above Earth is a very active part of our upper atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere gets its name from ions—tiny charged particles that blow around in this layer of the atmosphere.

    How did all those ions get there? They were made by energy from the Sun!

    This illustration shows the layers of Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s GOLD and ICON missions will work together to study the ionosphere, a region of charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Changes in the ionosphere can interfere with the radio waves used to communicate with satellites and astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Duberstein (modified)

    This illustration shows the layers of Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s GOLD and ICON missions will work together to study the ionosphere, a region of charged particles in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Changes in the ionosphere can interfere with the radio waves used to communicate with satellites and astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Duberstein (modified)

    Everything in the universe that takes up space is made up of matter, and matter is made of tiny particles called atoms. At the ionosphere, atoms from the Earth’s atmosphere meet up with energy from the Sun. This energy, called radiation, strips away parts of the atom. What’s left is a positively or negatively charged atom, called an ion.

    The ionosphere is filled with ions. These particles move about in a giant wind. However, conditions in the ionosphere change all the time. Earth’s seasons and weather can cause changes in the ionosphere, as well as radiation and particles from the Sun—called space weather.

    These changes in the ionosphere can cause problems for humans. For example, they can interfere with radio signals between Earth and satellites. This could make it difficult to use many of the tools we take for granted here on Earth, such as GPS. Radio signals also allow us to communicate with astronauts on board the International Space Station, which orbits Earth within the ionosphere. Learning more about this region of our atmosphere may help us improve forecasts about when these radio signals could be distorted and help keep humans safe.

    In 2018, NASA has plans to launch two missions that will work together to study the ionosphere. NASA’s GOLD (Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk) mission launched in January 2018. GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles above Earth. From way up there, it will be able to create a map of the ionosphere over the Americas every half hour. It will measure the temperature and makeup of gases in the ionosphere. GOLD will also study bubbles of charged gas that are known to cause communication problems.

    A second NASA mission, called ICON, short for Ionospheric Connection Explorer, will launch later in 2018. It will be placed in an orbit just 350 miles above Earth—through the ionosphere. This means it will have a close-up view of the upper atmosphere to pair with GOLD’s wider view. ICON will study the forces that shape this part of the upper atmosphere.

    Both missions will study how the ionosphere is affected by Earth and space weather. Together, they will give us better observations of this part of our atmosphere than we have ever had before.

    To learn more about the ionosphere, check out NASA Space Place:

  • NASA is turning 60 this year!

    50eee709a8a8c3dfa08f67f72dd7e651The SMAS website has been around for several years and thanks to our members we have put together a nice page of resources.  Twice in the past few months we have received emails from students who have found our resource page useful, and have also sent a suggestion to add to those resources.  Today, Adam, a student from San Diego shared this website with us, it has a timeline of NASA.   It includes highlights of the agency, including this one:

    • July 29, 1958: The National Aeronautics and Space Act is signed into law, calling for the creation of NASA. Before NASA, the U.S. military conducted research regarding space exploration. The intention of the act was to ensure that space activity was “devoted to peaceful purposes.”

    We are coming up on the Sixtieth Anniversary of NASA.  Thanks Adam and Quentin for making suggestions to our site.

  • Super Red/Blue Moon Eclipse- SMAS Meeting January 26th

    What is all this hype about Super Moon’s?  Red Moon’s?  Join the Southwest Montana Astronomical Society for their January club meeting on Friday January 26th, starting at 7:00 p.m. in the Bozeman High School’s Bridger Library (room C6 – enter off of 11th Ave, across from Wendy’s).  Blue_Moons_lWe’ll look at the January 31st  Lunar Eclipse trifecta (The Full Moon will be a: Super Moon, Blue Moon and Red Moon) as well as how to observe the Moon and more. Open to the public, free.

  • Bozeman Astronomy on Tap

    Astronomy on Tap Bozeman: December 4, 2017

    Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 9.08.29 AM

    5:30 pm, Monday, December 4th at  Mountains Walking Brewery . On this occasion we will have Dr. Dana Longcope talking about stars and the creation of heavy elements, and Dr. Neil Cornish discussing the neutron star merger and the production of even heavier elements. This is great opportunity for the community to learn about astrophysics, socialize and win prizes.

    Hope to see you and your friends (no matter what age) there!

    For more updates on Astronomy on Tap visit: or follow the Bozeman group on Facebook



  • Winter 2017 SMAS meeting

    WinterMeetingThe SMAS November/December Winter meeting will be on Friday December 1st at 6:30 p.m. for our annual Winter Meeting/pot luck/elections.

    See post below for directions to the Bridger Library at Bozeman High School, we are at the end of C-Wing in room C-6.

    SMAS will provide meat, plates/napkins/flatware, please bring a dish to share.

  • SMAS meeting – NEW LOCATION

    We are going to be meeting at the Bridger Charter Academy library, located in the Bozeman High School for our October 28th, December 1st and our January 26th meetings.  We’ll re-evaluate and possibly reserve more dates.  We’ve had meetings at the public library, but some people have been locked out.  Some meetings at the firehouse, but can’t always get the dates we want, and some at the Sore Elbow Forge -thanks to owner and SMAS VP Tom Holcombe.  It was costly to meet at the Commons for the Winter Lecture Series, then we found out about the 501c3 pricing through the district.  Click on the picture below for a better view!

    Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 8.40.12 AM

  • International Observe the Moon Night

    Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.38.05 PMInternational Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation, appreciation, and understanding of our Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration, as well as the cultural and personal connections we all have with Earth’s nearest neighbor. Everyone on Earth is invited to join the celebration by observing or attending an InOMN event — and uniting on one day each year to look at and learn about the Moon together.  SMAS has participated in this event for the past seven years, and this year is no exception.  Join us at 5:00 p.m. on the lawn in front of the Bozeman Public Library on Saturday October 28th if the skies are clear!  Clouds cancel the event.  Observe the moon through telescopes and much more.

  • Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival Sept. 15-17

    Dakota-Nights-Poster2SMAS has been supporting the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival for the past four years.  Held at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora North Dakota, this event packs a lot into the three days!  Year 5 of the event is no exception.   We are proud to partner with our State and National Parks for events.
    This years schedule:

    Daytime Activities – Saturday & Sunday – Sept. 16 & 17, 2017

    9:00am to 4:00pm Discovery Dome Theater
    Immerse yourself in films about outer space, planets, stars, and black holes! Films are shown in the full-dome theater on the hour from 9:00am to 4:00 pm in the South Unit Visitor Center.

    10:00am to 1:00om Kids’ Crafts and Activities
    Join rangers at Chimney Park in Medora for FREE hands-on activities that help kids learn about astronomy.

    11:00am (Saturday only) Eclipse with Lynn Powers
    NASA Solar System Ambassador, Lynn Powers, presents a summary of the August 21st solar eclipse and shows you where, when, and how to see the next one at the Chateau De Mores Interpretive Center in Medora.

    1:00 to 3:00pm Rocket Building and Launching
    Build, paint, and launch a rocket at Chimney Park in Medora. Rocket kits are $10.

    3:00pm Telescope Building
    Build a real, working telescope at Chimney Park in Medora. Then, take your scope home and start exploring the night sky where you live. Kits are $10.

    3:00pm Saving our Night Skies
    NASA Ambassador, Chris Milford, shares his research and findings related to light pollution in North Dakota and his quest to save the darkness of our precious night skies.

    1:00 to 4:00pm Solar Viewing
    Have you ever seen a sunspot? Safely view the sun (and its spots!) through telescopes and by other means at the South Unit Visitor Center.

    Featured Presentations

    7:00pm in the Cottonwood Campground Amphitheater

    Friday – NASA Cassini Mission Crash into Saturn
    For more than 12 years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been collecting scientific information and photos of Saturn. Astronomer and NASA Ambassador, Lynn Powers, discusses the Cassini Mission and its grand finale as it crashes into the ringed planet today, September 15, 2017.

    Saturday – The Importance of Darkness
    Learn about the impacts of light pollution on wildlife with a focus on some of night’s most misunderstood creatures-bats! Dr. Paul Barnhart will explain the importance of these unique mammals and how human-created light impacts their behavior and survival.

    Stargazing and Telescopes

    Friday, Saturday, & Sunday 8:00pm
    Peaceful Valley Ranch

    Following the featured presentations each night, join Astronomers and Rangers out under the stars at the Peaceful Valley Ranch. Hear stories, myths, and legends about the stars as you make your way around the telescope field. Bundle up, bring your friends and family, and join us as we gather to marvel at the wonders of the dark night sky.

  • Montana Star Watch – 2017

    Coming up on September 15-17, join SMAS and other amateur astronomers for Montana Star Watch.  Follow this link for more information such as:  directions to the site outside of Twin Bridges, Montana; line up of speakers; events such as meals and swap meet; and a paypal link to pay for your reservation. DSC03175DSC03159

  • August 21st Solar Eclipse

    SMAS members are out and about this summer preparing for the Great American Eclipse on Monday morning August 21st.  We’ll be doing presentations in Glacier NP, Waterton International Peace Park, Yellowstone NP, and Cooney State Park.  You can find us at the Emerson’s Lunch on the Lawn most Wednesdays starting after the 4th of July, also several presentations at the Bozeman Public Library ( 7/21, and 8/4).
    We have two members running sites in Idaho for the Citizen CATE Experiment, the Idaho state coordinator is our own SMAS club president.

    View responsibly and look under our resources tab for more links.


    Here we are preparing for the 2017 eclipse during the partial eclipse in October 2014. 1899889_712019915558231_2582764873985311613_n