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| May 18 2021 |

Montana Learning Center launches Starry Sky Survey Citizen Science Project

The Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake is introducing a new opportunity for young citizen scientists to help monitor light pollution in Big Sky Country. The Starry Sky Survey Project is facilitated through public libraries across the Treasure State and is part of a larger effort to track light pollution globally. Data collected by Montana Learning Center’s participants will be added to the international database, “Globe at Night.”

At night light pollution obscures the sky, wastes an estimated 3 billion dollars in energy costs yearly in the US, is linked to negative impacts on human health, and is detrimental to wildlife and natural ecosystems. Light pollution is often caused by unnecessary or excess lighting.

The Earth’s atmosphere reflects this waste light back down to us on the ground, causing a phenomenon called Skyglow. This glowing dome of light is encroaching on our lives at an alarming rate, even outpacing population growth. Twenty years ago, most Montanans could see the Milky Way from their backyards. Today, that number is quickly shrinking, and 99 percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from where they live. This trend is even threatening remote, rural locations such as National Parks and wilderness areas.

Ryan Hannahoe, Executive Director of the Montana Learning Center, is a leader in the statewide effort to preserve Montana’s dark skies. As a member of the board of directors for the Montana Chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, he advocates for greater awareness and protection of naturally dark night skies through better lighting strategies. Working with local communities and individuals is a vital step towards preserving Montana’s heritage of dark skies.

“This is an opportunity for participants to contribute to real science, both at a local and global level,” Hannahoe said. “Data collected will help advance scientists’ understanding of the impacts of light pollution on energy consumption, ecology, and human health, as well as the breadth of the problem.”

Participating libraries in Montana will be provided a kit with a dark sky meter, a red flashlight, and a specialized star chart known as a planisphere. Students and their families can choose a location – like their own backyard – and follow the survey kit’s simple instructions to measure the brightness of the night sky. Ideally, these measurements are taken under clear skies on a moonless or nearly moonless night. The young citizen scientist can then report their data online.

The Starry Sky Survey Project kits are sponsored in part by NASA, Montana Learning Center, and the Montana Chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association. If you are a librarian at a public library in Montana and are interested in borrowing a kit, please contact the Montana Learning Center at MontanaLearningCenter@gmail.com.

The Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake offers youth summer camps in a variety of STEM fields, teacher learning opportunities, and the state’s premier astronomy program, with the largest public-use telescope in Montana. Montana Learning Center and Montana State University partner to facilitate NASA’s Northwest Earth & Space Science Pipeline in Montana, an outreach effort to strengthen aerospace education and outreach. The Center boasts a picturesque lakeside setting, which is ideal for exploring Montana’s geology and night sky.

The Milky Way Over the Crazy Mountains

Photo Credit: Shane Mayer-Gawlik

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