Amateur Astronomy Under The Big Sky
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  • Stars Over Yellowstone – August `09

    We had yet another great weekend in Yellowstone with Jim Manning, executive director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, presenting two wonderful talks even through we were somewhat clouded out on Saturday night.

    Friday night was spectacular and we had the telescopes set up in the parking lot rather than down in the meadow below the amphitheater and this worked out quite well overall.  The turnout for Jim’s first campfire presentation was large and we had a huge crowd at the telescopes into the night.  Jupiter was rising as the Sun set and was high in the sky as Jim’s presentation was over and the crowd moved up to the telescopes.  Of course, everyone got to view Jupiter and the Galilean moons,  M14 The Hercules Cluster and many other jewels of the summer sky.

    On Saturday, Charlie, Dr. Sabo, Eric and Ester, and our friends from YVAA, Kevin Bebbe and Rich McCellan, were at Old Faithful for solar observing throughout the afternoon.  Burt Rutan and his wife Tonya stopped by and Eric, Charlie and I got to visit with them for a few minutes about SMAS, commercial space flight, and science education among other topics.  What a pleasant surprise and honor to meet and visit with these good folks.

    Jim’s campfire presentation Saturday evening, Galileo’s Universe, was wonderful and a large crowd turned out.  Duncan and I had decided to return to Bozeman after Jim’s presentation and so we missed the observing session but a great weekend overall.  I really can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.  Cheers…

  • Stars Over Yellowstone – July `09

    The kids and I headed down to Madison on Friday afternoon leaving a sweltering Bozeman behind us. As they always are this time of year, things were pretty busy in the park but the weather was beautiful and things were relatively quiet at the Madison campground. After hooking up with Dr. Stacy Palin, Dr. John Anderson and Dr. Shane Larson and family as well as other club members and having a nice dinner followed up with s’mores around the campfire, we all headed over to the amphitheater to get setup.

    Dr. Palin presented her lecture The Lives of Stars to a large audience while SMAS members got the telescopes setup below on the meadow. After the lecture it was fairly crowded but it looked as though everyone got to put their eye to the eyepiece on several telescopes and see the many wonders of a very dark sky. A few of the favorite objects viewed were M13, the Hercules Cluster, M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and of course, Jupiter and its Galilean moons as they rose in the southeast.

    As things quieted down, we toured Sagittarius and Scorpius on the big telescopes hitting many  of the wonderful emission nebulae in those constellations that we only get to see this time of year. As the night worn on, Dr. Larson and SMAS president Dr. Richard Sabo took a group of us on a wonderful tour of lesser known but spectacular objects such as NGC 5907, the Splinter Galaxy, NGC 6543, the Cats Eye Nebula, and the Veil Nebula supernova remnant.

    The weather did not cooperate much on Saturday. The solar observing session at Old Faithful was pretty much clouded and rained out, although Lynn Powers stuck it out and provided handouts and deployed the solar system scale model. In the evening, the skies began to clear and Dr. Palin presented Astrostories: Constellation Stories from the Ancients to a large audience at the amphitheater but high thin clouds preventing any observing.

    All in all, a good time was had by all over the weekend. Special thanks to Dr. Palin for her presentations and to all of the SMAS members who came and helped out. I also want the thank the National Park Service for letting us come and enjoy the dark skies of Yellowstone and share our love of astronomy with others.

  • July & August Stars Over Bozeman Star Parties

    The Southwest Montana Astronomical Society is pleased to announce Stars Over Bozeman. As a group of amateur astronomers we wish to share our telescopes and knowledge of the night skies to all who wish to attend this free after dark event. Telescopes to be used range in size from small traditional 3 inch telescopes to our Pasley Dobsonian which has a 20 inch diameter lens mirror and is close to 8 feet tall when pointing straight up requiring the use of a ladder to look into the eyepiece. Bring your own telescope if you wish and members of SMAS will help you to use it.

    The events will be held at the 100 Acre Gallatin Regional Park located on Oak St 1.2 miles west of North 19th Street in Bozeman. The events will be held on Friday, July 17th and Friday, August 14th starting at 10:00 PM with better viewing after 11:00 PM.If it is cloudy, the event will be cancelled.

    [ Due to an editing error, the date was published in the Montana Pioneer as July 18th, so we need to have a few scopes out for a star party that night as well. ]
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  • The GLOBE at Night

    The Southwest Montana Astronomical Society (SMAS) invites you to participate in the annual global sky observation known as GLOBE at Night.  GLOBE at Night brings people outside to observe the constellation Orion from 16-28 March 2009. Participants simply choose a clear night on which stars are visible, take measurements of stars in this portion of the sky using GLOBE’s Magnitude Charts, and enter observations into the GLOBE at Night Web site.  Data about sky quality is collected, from which scientists can begin to explore the concept of light pollution and to research the patterns of light pollution across the globe.

    SMAS will be holding an informational meeting about the 2009 observation week in the Bozeman Public Library large meeting room on Saturday March 21, 2009 at 1:00 p.m.  SMAS members will demonstrate how to find Orion in the night sky, how to use the GLOBE’s magnitude charts and how to log your observations.  With 2009 designated as the “International Year of Astronomy”, SMAS and Globe at Night are trying to get everyone outside and looking up. This is a great way to view a fun constellation and learn more about our night sky.

    March 24th UPDATE:  The local CBS affiliate, KBZK, ran a piece on the GLOBE at Night event on their 5:00 and 10:00 newscast this evening, and a link to the GLOBE at Night website can be found on the KBZK website

  • Pasley Telescope Update

    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…

  • Stars Over Yellowstone

    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

    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

    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.

  • Irving School ’09

    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

    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…