Check out the link above for our 2020 Outreach Schedule. Always a work in progress, check often.

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, and beginning in 2016 at the Arcadia Dunes.

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

We also participate in the annual International Observe the Moon Night.

This year it was part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore virtual Star Party held September 25th.

Upcoming Meetings and Outreach Events

Note that outdoor events are held weather permitting

Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) GTAS meetings and star parties at the NMC Observatory have been canceled until further notice. Events with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will be virtual until further notice.

Friday November 6, 2020 at 8 pm GTAS Meeting/Star Party

Instructions will be located in this space by Friday, November 6th.

This article is distributed by NASA Night Sky Network

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

Observe the Skies Near Mars

By David Prosper

October is a banner month for Mars observers! October 6 marks the day Mars and Earth are at closest approach, a once-every-26-months event. A week later, on October 13, Mars is at opposition and up all night. Mars is very bright this month, and astronomers are eager to image and directly observe details on its disc; however, don’t forget to look at the space around the planet, too! By doing so, you can observe the remarkable retrograde motion of Mars and find a few nearby objects that you may otherwise overlook.

Since ancient times, Mars stood out to observers for its dramatic behavior. Usually a noticeable but not overly bright object, its wandering path along the stars showed it to be a planet instead of a fixed star. Every couple of years, this red planet would considerably flare up in brightness, for brief times becoming the brightest planet in the sky before dimming back down. At these times, Mars would also appear to slow down its eastward motion, stop, then reverse and head westward against the stars for a few weeks, before again stopping and resuming its normal eastward movement. This change in the planet’s movement is called “apparent retrograde motion.” While all of the planets will appear to undergo retrograde motion when observed from Earth, Mars’s retrograde appearances may be most dramatic. Mars retrograde motion in 2020 begins on September 10, and ends on November 16. You can observe its motion with your eyes, and it makes for a fun observing project! You can sketch the background stars and plot Mars as you observe it night after night, or set up a photographic series to track this motion. Does the planet move at the same rate night after night, or is it variable? As you observe its motion, note how Mars’s brightness changes over time. When does Mars appear at its most brilliant?

NASA has tons of great Mars-related resources! Want to know more about apparent retrograde motion? NASA has an explainer at: Find great observing tips in JPL’s “What’s Up?” videos: Check out detailed views with NASA’s HiRISE satellite, returning stunning closeups of the Martian surface since 2006: NASA’s Curiosity Rover will be joined in a few months by the Perseverance Rover, launched in late July to take advantage of the close approach of Mars and Earth, a launch window that opens two years:  Calculate the ideal launch window yourself with this handy guide: The Night Sky Network‘s Exploring Our Solar System handout invites you to chart the positions of the planets in the Solar System, and NSN coordinator Jerelyn Ramirez recently contributed an update featuring Mars opposition! You can download both versions at Young astronomers can find many Mars resources and activities on NASA’s Space Place: Here’s to clear skies and good seeing for Mars’s best appearance until 2033!

If you are paying this much attention to Mars, you’re likely curious about the skies surrounding it! Find Mars in the constellation Pisces, with constellations Aries, Triangulum, and Cetus nearby. Aries may be the only one of these dimmer patterns readily visible from light-polluted areas. The Pleiades rises shortly after Mars. Dim Uranus is found close by, in Aries. If you are observing Mars up close, use the same eyepiece to check out Uranus’s tiny blue-green disc. If you are uncertain whether you spotted Uranus, you didn’t see it! Unlike stars, Uranus doesn’t resolve to a point at high magnifications.

The path of Mars during the last five months of 2020. Notice the retrograde motion from September 10 to November 16, with prime Mars observing time found in between. October 6 is the day of closest approach of Earth and Mars, “just” 38.6 million miles apart. Images created with help from Stellarium:


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 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content!

It’s informal. It’s meaty. 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 feature a solar viewing time at the Sleeping Bear Dunes before the star parties in June, July and August.

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: 10/17/20 12:11:51 AM