About Us

The Grand Traverse Astronomical Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to to education and enjoyment of the night sky. Established in 1982, the GTAS has about 30 members from the Traverse City and the Grand Traverse area of northern Michigan. Meetings are held on the first Friday of every month beginning at 8 p.m. at Northwestern Michigan College's Joseph H. Rogers Observatory, though the August meeting is preempted by the annual picnic at another location.

Guests are always welcome to our meetings.

Over 750 attended the society sponsored Comet Hyakutake Watches March 23, and 24th, 1996. The farthest traveler came from Detroit to enjoy the dark skies and the spectacular comet through many telescopes. Comet Hale-Bopp attracted approximately 1,400 during the three scheduled viewing nights that were clear.

We've hit the road, so to speak, with outreach beyond the NMC Observatory since 2007. Since 2011 we've held monthly star parties at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore from April to October with additional eclipse and meteor shower watches. We bring our telescopes and exhibits to several festivals around the area along with Friday Night Live in Traverse City. Since 2010 the society has been hosting monthly star parties at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The GTAS belongs to the International Dark-Sky Association and participates in Project Astro.

Two of our members are also NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassadors.

Upcoming Meetings and Outreach Events

Note that outdoor events are held weather permitting

Saturday, May 27, 2023 - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Dune Climb

5 pm – 7 pm: Sun Party – Solar viewing

9 pm – 11 pm: Star Party – View the Moon and Venus

Friday, June 2, 2023

New Times for the summer!

9 pm EDT (UT - 4 hours): Regular Meeting - In-person at Northwestern Michigan College’s Joseph H. Rogers Observatory, AND via Zoom.

Program: An Antarctic Odyssey: Winter-Over at South Pole Station

A presentation via Zoom by John W. Briggs


In a lavishly illustrated presentation, John W. Briggs of New Mexico will describe his year-long experience living at the Geographic South Pole while working for the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. In preparation for this at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, John was a team member building a 24-inch infrared telescope and related experiments that were set up at the Pole in time for him and colleagues to observe the July, 1994, explosive crash of fragmented comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into the planet Jupiter.

John weathered the "winter-over" with 26 other members of the U.S. Antarctic Program in an experience that many believe approximates what life will be like someday at a lunar or Martian outpost. Once begun, South Pole winter-over is an irreversible commitment, since the Program's special LC-130 ski planes can't land in the winter temperatures -- in 1994, sometimes as low as 107 degrees F. below zero (with windchill, as low as -180 degrees). John will delight the audience with his perspective on the total South Pole experience -- the strange natural environment, the odd social atmosphere, and the challenging, ongoing science.

10 pm EDT (UT - 4 hours): In-person/Virtual Star Party if it’s clear.

Come back here prior to the meeting and/or star party for instructions for and a link to the meeting via Zoom.

Check here often for other events that may pop up during the month.

These articles are distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach.

Look Up in the Sky - It’s a Bird

Theresa Summer

Bird constellations abound in the night sky, including Cygnus, the majestic swan. Easy to find with its dazzling stars, it is one of the few constellations that look like its namesake and it is full of treasures. Visible in the Northern Hemisphere all summer long, there’s so much to see and even some things that can’t be seen. To locate Cygnus, start with the brightest star, Deneb, also the northeastern most and dimmest star of the Summer Triangle. The Summer Triangle is made up of three bright stars from three different constellations – read more about it in the September 2022 issue of Night Sky Notes. “Deneb'' is an Arabic word meaning the tail. Then travel into the triangle until you see the star Albireo, sometimes called the “beak star” in the center of the summer triangle. Stretching out perpendicular from this line are two stars that mark the crossbar, or the wings, and there are also faint stars that extend the swan’s wings.

From light-polluted skies, you may only see the brightest stars, sometimes called the Northern Cross. In a darker sky, the line of stars marking the neck of the swan travels along the band of the Milky Way. A pair of binoculars will resolve many stars along that path, including a sparkling open cluster of stars designated Messier 29, found just south of the swan’s torso star. This grouping of young stars may appear to have a reddish hue due to nearby excited gas.

Let’s go deeper. While the bright beak star Albireo is easy to pick out, a telescope will let its true beauty shine! Like a jewel box in the sky, magnification shows a beautiful visual double star, with a vivid gold star and a brilliant blue star in the same field of view. There’s another marvel to be seen with a telescope or strong binoculars – the Cygnus Loop. Sometimes known as the Veil Nebula, you can find this supernova remnant (the gassy leftovers blown off of a large dying star) directly above the final two stars of the swan’s eastern wing. It will look like a faint ring of illuminated gas about three degrees across (six times the diameter of the Moon).

Speaking of long-dead stars, astronomers have detected a high-energy X-ray source in Cygnus that we can’t see with our eyes or backyard telescopes, but that is detectable by NASA‘s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Discovered in 1971 during a rocket flight, Cygnus x-1 is the first X-ray source to be widely accepted as a black hole. This black hole is the final stage of a giant star’s life, with a mass of about 20 Suns. Cygnus x-1 is spinning at a phenomenal rate – more than 800 times a second – while devouring a nearby star. Astronomically speaking, this black hole is in our neighborhood, 6,070 light years away. But it poses no threat to us, just offers a new way to study the universe.

Check out the beautiful bird in your sky this evening, and you will be delighted to add Cygnus to your go-to summer viewing list. Find out NASA’s latest methods for studying black holes at www.nasa.gov/black-holes.

Look up after sunset during summer months to find Cygnus! Along the swan’s neck find the band of our Milky Way Galaxy. Use a telescope to resolve the colorful stars of Albireo or search out the open cluster of stars in Messier 29. Image created with assistance from Stellarium: stellarium.org

While the black hole Cygnus x-1 is invisible with even the most powerful Optical telescope, in X-ray, it shines brightly. On the left is the optical view of that region with the location of Cygnus x-1 shown in the red box as taken by the Digitized Sky Survey. On the right is an artist’s conception of the black hole pulling material from its massive blue companion star. (Credit: NASA/CXC chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2011/cygx1/)

Solar Eclipses Are Coming!

David Prosper

Have you ever witnessed a total solar eclipse? What about an annular solar eclipse? If not, then you are in luck if you live in North America: the next twelve months will see two solar eclipses darken the skies for observers in the continental United States, Mexico, and Canada!

Solar eclipse fans get a chance to witness an annular eclipse this fall. On Saturday, October 14, 2023, the Moon will move exactly in front of the Sun from the point of view of observers along a narrow strip of land stretching across the United States from Oregon to Texas and continuing on to Central and South America. Since the Moon will be at its furthest point in its orbit from Earth at that time (known as apogee), it won’t completely block the Sun; instead, a dramatic “ring” effect will be seen as the bright edge of the Sun will be visible around the black silhouette of the Moon. The distinct appearance of this style of eclipse is why it’s called an annular eclipse, as annular means ring-like. If you are standing under a tree or behind a screen you will see thousands of ring-like shadows projected everywhere during maximum eclipse, and the light may take on a wan note, but it won’t actually get dark outside; it will be similar to the brightness of a cloudy day. This eclipse must only be observed with properly certified eclipse glasses, or other safe observation methods like pinhole projection or shielded solar telescopes. Even during the peak of the eclipse, the tiny bit of the Sun seen via the “ring” can damage your retinas and even blind you.

Just six months later, a dramatic total solar eclipse will darken the skies from Mexico to northeast Canada, casting its shadow across the USA in a strip approximately 124 miles (200 km) wide, on Monday, April 8, 2024. While protection must be worn to safely observe most of this eclipse, it’s not needed to witness totality itself, the brief amount of time when the Moon blocks the entire surface of the Sun from view. And if you try to view totality through your eclipse viewer, you won’t actually be able to see anything! The Moon’s shadow will dramatically darken the skies into something resembling early evening, confusing animals and delighting human observers. You will even be able to see bright stars and planets - provided you are able to take your eyes off the majesty of the total eclipse! While the darkness and accompanying chilly breeze will be a thrill, the most spectacular observation of all will be the Sun’s magnificent corona! Totality is the only time you can observe the corona, which is actually the beautiful outer fringes of the Sun’s atmosphere. For observers in the middle of the path, they will get to experience the deepest portion of the eclipse, which will last over four minutes - twice as long as 2017’s total solar eclipse over North America.

While some folks may be lucky enough to witness both eclipses in full – especially the residents of San Antonio, Texas, whose city lies at the crossroads of both paths – everyone off the paths of maximum eclipse can still catch sight of beautiful partial eclipses if the skies are clear. The Eclipse Ambassadors program is recruiting volunteers across the USA to prepare communities off the central paths in advance of this amazing cosmic ballet. Find more information and apply to share the excitement at eclipseambassadors.org. NASA has published a fantastic Solar Eclipse Safety Guide which can help you plan your viewing at bit.ly/nasaeclipsesafety. And you can find a large collection of solar eclipse resources, activities, visualizations, photos, and more from NASA at solarsystem.nasa.gov/eclipses

This detailed solar eclipse map shows the paths of where and when the Moon’s shadow will cross the USA for the upcoming 2023 annular solar eclipse and 2024 total solar eclipse, made using data compiled from multiple NASA missions. Where will you be? This map is very detailed, so if you would like to download a larger copy of the image, you can do so and find out more about its features at: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/5073   Credits: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison; eclipse calculations by Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Photos of an annular total solar eclipse (left) and a total solar eclipse (right). Note that the annular eclipse is shown with a dark background, as it is only safe to view with protection – you can see how a small portion of the Sun is still visible as the ring around the Moon. On the right, you can see the Sun’s wispy corona, visible only during totality itself, when the Moon completely – or totally - hides the Sun from view. A total solar eclipse is only safe to view without protection during totality itself; it is absolutely necessary to protect your eyes throughout the rest of the eclipse! Credits: Left, Annular Eclipse: Stefan Seip (Oct 3, 2005). Right, Total Eclipse, NASA/Aubrey Gemignani (August 21, 2017)


For Kids: NASA’s Space Place website

The Space Place is a NASA website for elementary school-aged kids, their teachers, and their parents.

  • It’s colorful! It’s dynamic!
    It’s fun!

  • It’s rich with
    Technology, Engineering, and
    Math (STEM) content!

  • It’s informal.

  • It’s easy to read and understand.

  • It’s also in Spanish.

  • And it’s free!

It has over 150 separate modules for kids, including hands-on projects, interactive games, animated cartoons, and amazing facts about space and Earth science and technology.

See this month's NASA Night Sky Network article at the bottom of the center panel on this page.

Also check out these two sites for kids: NASA's Climate Kids and NOAA's SciJinks

Bob Moler's Ephemeris contains audio mp3s of current Ephemeris programs; calendars of sunrise, sunset,moonrise and moonset for the Grand Traverse area of Michigan, and other locations in northern Michigan; plus a monthly star chart.

Also Bob's Ephemeris Blog with daily transcripts of and illustrations for his Ephemeris programs on Interlochen Public Radio. Wednesday’s program looks at where the bright planets are along with finder charts.

Northwestern Michigan College's Joseph H. Rogers Observatory

If you'd like to donate

From Article II, B of the Articles of Incorporation of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society:

The Society shall operate a scientific and educational organization with the goal of increasing interest in, the knowledge and enjoyment of astronomy; cooperate with similar organizations; and cooperate with Northwestern Michigan College to increase the benefit of the college observatory to the community.

As you can see by the statement above the society is inexorably linked to the Joseph H. Rogers observatory. However in the past number of years members have been also taking telescopes out into the community, on sidewalks and street corners, and in the street on Friday Night Live, and to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We find that many folks in the area have never been out to the observatory. This way we are going to to the public. And having a huge telescope is really a great attraction, not to mention the superb views of the heavens it will provide.

We have purchased a 25 inch Dobsonian telescope with trailer to use and to take around for our outreach program. We have also purchased two solar telescopes to view the Sun's prominences and chromosphere.

We have recently purchased small telescopes to give to libraries for them to lend out. The first two recipients are Traverse Area District Library and Betsie Valley District Library. Enerdyne of Suttons Bay donated the second telescope..

You may contribute to the fund to help us upgrade and add accessories to the society's telescopes by mailing a check to the GTAS, c/o the society treasurer Gary Carlisle, 1473 Birmley Rd, Traverse City, MI 49686. We are a 501(c)(3) non profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Thank You!

Updated: 05/24/23 08:18:16 PM