Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • Resources

    Here we present a collection of tools and resources that we have found useful. Please let us know if you have something to add or if you find anything not working as expected.  Here is a page with Apps we like using, too.

    Comets: Several can be visible through out the year – learn how to find them, see below for other comet resources, too.

    • Comet Watch:  Click on the Live Position Data for more information on any comets coming our way.
    • Comets in the Sky: Adjust for your location and date of viewing, the map will give you where current comets are in the sky and let you know if they are visible with a telescope, binoculars or naked eye.
    • Transit of Mercury:  Last transit was November 2019,  next one is in 2032
    • EclipseWise: A transit is when one object goes in front of another object. Lunar eclipses and solar eclipses are transits.  This site has information for all types of transits with timing and maps. Next solar eclipse in North America: 10/2023 Annular, 04/2024 Total.


    • Stellarium – A wonderful multi-platform, open-source planetarium package.
    • Cartes du Ciel/Sky Charts – An open-source planetarium/charting package.
    • Celestia – The multi-platform space simulator that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions.
    • Did you know that your Google Earth program has a tab for a sky view, and the Moon and Mars?  Click on the planet on the top tab, a drop down box will give you your options.

    On-line Applications and Sites

    • U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications – Rise and set times, lunar phases and much more.
    • Heavens Above – See the ISS, Iridium Flares, comets, planetary data, charts and much more.
    • The 88 Constellations – Nice infographic of the 88 constellations, with pictures, best time to view, where it’s located, etc.  Shared by Boy Scout troop 325, while they were searching the web for their Astronomy Merit Badge they found us and thought this would be a great additional resource for others.
    • Google Sky – Google maps for the sky. DSS, infrared, microwave, historical images along with Google Moon and Google Mars.
    • NASA’s Eclipse site – All things eclipses, planetary transits across the sun, and other solar system information.
    • NASA Timeline of the history of the agency. Suggested by Adam, a student in CA who found the SMAS resource page during his research and thought this would be a great addition to our page. Thanks Adam!
    • – All things comets.
    • StarDate Online – A wealth of information and StarDate Magazine from the good folks at The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory.
    • Jupiter’s Moons Information – Find out the positions of Jupiter’s 4 Galilean moons currently or at any time in the future, a great web page at the Sky & Telescope web site.
    • Lunar Eclipses for Beginners –  What is a lunar eclipse and why do the happen, learn about that and more.
    • Locate Lunar Eclipses – Information about where and when to view lunar eclipses
    • Solar Eclipses for Beginners – Learn about solar eclipses.
    • Time and Date: Sun and Moon rise/set times and eclipse information
    • Moon base map – a printable map of features on the moon.
    • Interactive ISS – for the 16th anniversary (2016) an interactive site with info on the ISS (see the Heavens-Above website above to track the ISS and go out to observe it going overhead. )
    • Backyard Astronomy Basics – Suggested by Quentin, a boy scout making his way through his Astronomy Badge work who found the SMAS resource page helpful, but knew that we needed to add this site, too.  Thanks Quentin!
    • Online Ultimate Beginners Guide to Astronomy. Filled with info on observing, telescopes and photography.
    • Computer games for kids: Another site suggested by a student, Trevor, who found our other links helpful and thought we needed to add this site. Most need flash, so update then go play and learn! Thanks Trevor!
    • Guide to Backyard Astronomy another site suggested by a visitor to our site. Thanks James!
    • Universe Sandbox – a fun site to play around in – it is a physics-based space simulator.  It merges gravity, climate, collision, and material interactions to reveal the beauty of our universe and the fragility of our planet. Create, destroy, and interact on a scale you’ve never before imagined. One of our members favorite site to play around with!
    • Dimension 4 will sync your clock on your computer to help your computer operated telescope find objects in the night sky.
    • DeepSkyStacker is a freeware for astrophotographers that simplifies all the pre-processing steps of deep sky pictures.
    • IUA Minor Planets website helps you find what is up in the night sky.
    •  PHD Guiding is designed to be “Push Here Dummy” simple, yet provide powerful, intelligent auto-guiding of your telescope for both PCs and Macs. Connect your mount, your camera, select a star, and start guiding.
    • Montana IDA chapter of the International Dark Skies Association.
    • Top 25 Public Observatories  How many have you been to?
    • Top NASA Astronomy Photos of all time. How many do you remember?  Thanks to Edelyn for the two Top 25 sites.
    • StarLust is a collection of information about our solar system and the universe intended for a general audience with little technical background.  Thanks, Tom
    • 44 of the closest stars compared to our Sun, great visual with size, luminosity, and more.  Thanks to Megan

    Clear Sky Clock

    Special thanks to Attilla Danko of for our clear sky clock.

    The SMAS clear sky clock. SMAS Clear Sky Clock

    Other Clear Sky Clocks in Montana.

    Current Lunar Phase

     Citizen Science

     SOLAR and Aurora Links:

    Solar Missions: list of past, current and future missions to study the sun

    Solar Missions: List of all NASA solar missions

    Space Weather: Basic information on space weather, auroras, and more – My go-to site.

    Space Weather Live: More in-depth data pertaining to the sun

    Solar Ham: Information from the above sites and more

    University of Alaska models and forecast

    Ovation Aurora predictions

    The Sun Today: Lots of info and education regarding the sun and missions

    Solar Monitor: Current and past data and pictures of the sun

    Sunspots: Current data on sunspots

    Helioviewer:  Current solar data/images.  Change the parameters (space scopes and wavelength) to make movies and look back at past events

    SOHO website: Info and data from the SOHO mission

    SDO website: info and data from the Solar Dynamic Observatory

    STEREO website: info and data from the STEREO Mission

    IRIS mission: Ties to MSU

    MMS Mission: Ties to MSU

    FIREBIRD Mission: Ties to MSU

    Aurorasaurus: – info on auroras and educational information on what causes the aurora

    ACE website: info and data from the Advanced Composition Explorer

    Heliophysics educational resources

    NOAA – The official U.S. government space weather bureau

    Atmospheric Optics – The first place to look for information about sundogs, pillars, rainbows and related phenomena

    Solar Monitoring – information about sunspots based on the latest NOAA/USAF Active Region Summary

    30 Minute Aurora Forecast

    Live Aurora webcam from Lapland

    Softserve forecast and alerts

    Satellite weather – Will it be clear or not to go and view the aurora or look at the stars?

    Camera Settings for auroral photography

    More help with camera settings

    A Students Guide to Solar Power eclipses, thanks to Girl Scout Hannah

    Eclipse information:

    How to photograph an Eclipse: from our friend Carlos at Astro Pix

    Astrophotography – how to avoid star trails

    All eclipse dates: From NASA, lunar and solar through the year 2100.  It’s never too early to start planning your next trip!

    Citizen CATE Experiment: Several SMAS club members manned sites and contributed to the data collected from the 8/21/17 TSE, see the movie here.

    NASA Eclipse 2017

    Interactive map – pick an eclipse, plot where you’ll be to see timing of the eclipse

    GLOBE Observer App

    GLOBE Cloud training

    Globe at Night – Globe at Night, citizen science for dark skies


    Space Elevators: From our friend Lucas

    Plasma Rockets: From our friend Dave

    SMAS members list of favorites objects to find in the night sky during public outreach events include: 

    Planets – depending on the season and which are up.


    M57 – Ring Nebula


    Double cluster

    M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy

    M27 – Dumbell nebula

    M16 – Swan nebula

    M42 – Orion Nebula (in the fall/winter)