Beyond the Big Sky




Astronomy Program



2024 Public Stargazing Nights at MLC

Join us this summer at Montana Learning Center’s state-of-the-art astronomical park along the banks of Canyon Ferry Lake to gaze at the wonders of the universe through Montana’s largest and most sophisticated publicly-accessible telescopes.

Available One Weekend Each Month from June to August

Event Details

For one weekend a month from June through August, MLC will open its observatories to the public at sunset. Each evening will start with a presentation from one of MLC’s astronomy experts, after which you’ll have the opportunity to use your newfound knowledge to better appreciate the night skies as we gaze through MLC’s state-of-the art telescopes.

Each evening’s presentation will be different.

Members of MLC’s staff and volunteers from the Helena Astronomical Society will be on hand to operate the telescopes and answer questions in the observatories.

The 2024 public observing nights and speakers are:

Dr. Darci Snowden – June 28th & 29th


Dr. Darci Snowden is an Associate Professor of Physics at Central Washington University, specializing in planetary science, with a focus on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and Director of the Northwest Earth and Space Science Pathways (NESSP), a NASA Science Activation Program. As NESSP’s Director, Dr. Snowden aims to inspire students across Montana and the Northwest to pursue STEM careers through hands-on, NASA-inspired activities. Before taking on her current roles, Dr. Snowden worked as a participating scientist on NASA’s Cassini Mission, an international effort that sent a space probe to study Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. Originally from Missoula, Montana, Dr. Snowden has fond memories of visiting her grandparents’ cabin on Canyon Ferry Lake, not far from the Learning Center’s campus. 

Peter Detterline – July 12th & 13th


Peter Detterline is a professional astronomer and Observatory Director for the Mars Society. As the Society’s Observatory Director, Mr. Detterline operates two telescopes, a solar observatory and a robotic observatory. Mr. Detterline also teaches college students, and teaches the Learning Center’s online robotic telescope training courses for teachers, offered in partnership with Montana State University. Before joining the Mars Society, Mr. Detterline was the Director of the Boyertown Planetarium for 35 years, and recently received the Thomas Brennan Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for exceptional achievement in teaching high school astronomy. 

James Manning – August 2nd & 3rd


James Manning is the retired Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, one of the nation’s leading organizations devoted to improving people’s understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of astronomy and space. Prior to joining the Society, Mr. Manning served as Head of the Office of Public Outreach of the Space Telescope Science Institute (the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescope) and as Director of the Museum of the Rockies’ Taylor Planetarium in Bozeman, Montana. Mr. Manning has been a member of many planetarium and education organizations, and served as President of the International Planetarium Society.

View up close the wonders of the night sky

Ticket Purchase

Attendance at each event is limited to 100 people and requires advance ticket purchase.  Please use the links on this page to register for your preferred date(s).

Tickets for each evening are $25 per adult (age 18 and over) and $15 per child. Attendees must be 12 years old or older.

Tickets are non-refundable.

Events to occur rain or shine.
Night-sky observing is weather permitting.

You can find information about area lodging options, restaurants, daytime activities and more by clicking on the Helena, Montana logo in the Sponsors section below.

Be Inspired by the wonders of our Universe

Our Observatory Facility at Canyon Ferry

Event Guidelines




What to Bring

Consider bringing the following personal items to the event:

  • Red flashlight or headlamp (red flashlights will be available for purchase at each event)
  • Comfortable camp chair for speaker presentations, which will be held outdoors on MLC’s grounds
  • Warm blanket, hat and/or gloves (most nights will be cool, even in the height of summer)
  • Insect repellent (in our lakeside location, mosquitoes are common)

What Not to Bring

The following should NOT be brought to the event:

  • Food or drink of any kind, including alcohol
    • Drinks and snacks will be available for purchase at each event.
  • Smoking materials or illegal drugs of any kind
  • Animals of any kind, other than trained service animals
    • Prior written approval of attendance by trained service animals is required. Ticket buyers will have an opportunity to request approval of attendance by a trained service animal during the ticket purchasing process.
  • Children under the age of 12


Event Guidelines

Keep the following guidelines in mind while attending the event:

  • Avoid using white lights (including camera flashes and phone flashlights) and use red lights sparingly while on MLC’s grounds. If, for some reason, you must use a white light while outdoors, give fair warning to those around you. Use of white lights of any kind inside the observatories is strictly prohibited.
  • Avoid loud and boisterous behavior. Astronomy is a quiet, peaceful activity.
  • Keep MLC’s campus beautiful and clean. Deposit all trash in the labeled trashcans and all recyclables in the labeled recycling bins, both of which can be found in multiple locations on MLC’s grounds.
  • Drive slowly on MLC’s dirt roads to avoid kicking dust up into the atmosphere.
  • Children must be under adult supervision and well behaved at all times.
  • Above all, be kind and considerate of others. We’re all here because of stardust.

Thanks to Our Sponsors: