Beyond the Big Sky




Astronomy Program



2023 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 some of Montana’s largest and most sophisticated publicly-accessible telescopes.

Available One Weekend Each Month from June to August, 2023

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 2023 public observing nights and speakers are:

Peter Detterline – June 23rd & 24th

Peter Detterline is an avid professional astronomer whose interests cover a wide range of the astronomical spectrum. As the Observatory Director for the Mars Society, Peter operates two telescopes, a solar observatory and a robotic observatory. For the 35 years before he joined the Mars Society, Peter was the Director of the Boyertown Planetarium, where he presented astronomical programs to over half a million people. He received the Thomas Brennan Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for exceptional achievement in teaching high school astronomy. He continues to teach astronomy at Montgomery County Community College and also teaches MLC’s online robotic telescope courses for teachers through Montana State University.

Shawn Backbone – July 21st & 22nd


Shawn Backbone is a member of the Apsáalooke/Crow Tribe. The Tribe’s reservation is located in southern Montana. Shawn is very proud of Crow culture and is knowledgeable in Apsáalooke stories about our world, including stories about the night sky. Shawn has served as a tribal officer and legislator, with a strong belief in empowerment and giving back to his community.


Derek Demeter – August 11th & 12th


Derek Demeter is the Director of the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College of Florida, writing and producing live, interactive shows for the Planetarium and overseeing its operation. Over the years, Derek’s passion for teaching people about the wonders of the universe has earned him many accolades and worldwide recognition. Derek also enjoys promoting astronomy beyond the Planetarium with his work as an astrophotographer, which has been featured by NASA, Astronomy Magazine and other publications.

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.

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)

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.

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