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

Note: Change of meeting times for the late spring and summer months: Meetings will start at 9 pm, star parties will start around 10 pm, due to the late sunset, twilight times. As usual there will be no meeting in August due to our annual picnic for members only.

Friday June 3, 2022

9 pm EDT (UT - 4 hours): In-person at Northwestern Michigan College’s Joseph H. Rogers Observatory, AND via Zoom. Masks are recommended if attending in person.

Becky Shaw will present An Encore to Women of Science. Over the years Becky has presented programs highlighting the pioneering women in astronomy and the other sciences from Hypatia in the 5th century CE to Cecilia Payne of the 20th century.

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

For instructions on how to join the meeting via Zoom, and a link, check back here before the meeting on Friday, June 3.

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

Night Lights: Aurora, Noctilucent Clouds, and the Zodiacal Light

By David Prosper

Have you spotted any “night lights”? These phenomena brighten dark skies with celestial light ranging from mild to dazzling: the subtle light pyramid of the zodiacal light, the eerie twilight glow of noctilucent clouds, and most famous of all, the wildly unpredictable and mesmerizing aurora.

Aurora, often referred to as the northern lights (aurora borealis) or southern lights (aurora australis), can indeed be a wonderful sight, but the beautiful photos and videos shared online are often misleading. For most observers not near polar latitudes, auroral displays are relatively rare and faint, and without much structure, more gray than colorful, and show up much better in photos. However, geomagnetic storms can create auroras that dance and shift rapidly across the skies with several distinct colors and appear to observers much further away from the poles - on very rare occasions even down to the mid-latitudes of North America! Geomagnetic storms are caused when a magnetic storm on our Sun creates a massive explosion that flings a mass of particles away from its surface, known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). If Earth is in the path of this CME, its particles interact with our planet’s magnetic field and result in auroral displays high up in our ionosphere. As we enter our Sun’s active period of its 11-year solar cycle, CMEs become more common and increase the chance for dazzling displays! If you have seen any aurora, you can report your sighting to the Aurorasaurus citizen science program at aurorasaurus.org

Have you ever seen wispy clouds glowing an eclectic blue after sunset, possibly towards your west or northwest? That wasn’t your imagination; those luminescent clouds are noctilucent clouds (also called Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC)). They are thought to form when water vapor condenses around ‘seeds’ of dust from vaporized meteorites - along with other sources that include rocket launches and volcanic eruptions - around 50 miles high in the mesosphere. Their glow is caused by the Sun, whose light still shines at that altitude after sunset from the perspective of ground-based observers. Noctilucent clouds are increasing both in frequency and in how far south they are observed, a development that may be related to climate change. Keeping in mind that observers closer in latitude to the poles have a better chance of spotting them, your best opportunity to spot noctilucent clouds occurs from about half an hour to two hours after sunset during the summer months. NASA’s AIM mission studies these clouds from its orbit high above the North Pole: go.nasa.gov/3uV3Yj1

You may have seen the zodiacal light without even realizing it; there is a reason it’s nicknamed the “false dawn”! Viewers under dark skies have their best chance of spotting this pyramid of ghostly light a couple of hours after sunset around the spring equinox, or a couple of hours before dawn around the autumnal equinox. Unlike our previous two examples of night lights, observers closer to the equator are best positioned to view the zodiacal light! Long known to be reflected sunlight from interplanetary dust orbiting in the plane of our solar system, these fine particles were thought to originate from comets and asteroids. However, scientists from NASA’s Juno mission recently published a fascinating study indicating a possible alternative origin: dust from Mars! Read more about their serendipitous discovery at: go.nasa.gov/3Onf3kN

Curious about the latest research into these night lights? Find news of NASA’s latest discoveries at nasa.gov

Comet NEOWISE flies high above a batch of noctilucent clouds in this photo from Wikimedia contributor Brwynog. License and source CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comet_Neowise_and_noctilucent_clouds.jpg

The zodiacal light extends into the Pleiades, as seen in the evening of March 1, 2021 above Skull Valley. Utah. The Pleiades star cluster (M45) is visible near the top.

Credit and source:: NASA/Bill Dunford, https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/51030289967

A sampling of some of the various patterns created by aurora, as seen from Iceland in 2014. The top row photos were barely visible to the unaided eye and were exposed for 20-30 seconds; in contrast, the bottom row photos were exposed for just 4 seconds- and were clearly visible to the photographer, Wikimedia contributor Shnuffel2022.License and source: CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aurora_shapes.jpg


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: 05/06/22 11:02:06 PM