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Latest Happenings at the Montana Learning Center
Meet The Board
| May 2020 |
See Big Sky Country LIVE 24/7 from Anywhere Around the World Thanks to the Montana Learning Center!
Montana Learning Center recently added an all-sky camera to the astronomy resources located at its facility on Canyon Ferry Lake, just outside Helena, the capital of Montana.
“The Montana Learning Center’s all-sky camera provides a 180-degree view of the sky and can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as the viewer has an Internet connection,” Ryan Hannahoe, the Center’s Executive Director, said. “This is exciting because it allows viewers to enjoy Big Sky Country from wherever they are living.”
These days, the night sky across most urban and suburban sections of the world is filled with diffuse light that shines up, versus down on the ground where it belongs. This “light pollution” makes it hard to see the stars at night. But the night sky at the Learning Center has almost no light pollution due to the Learning Center’s relatively rural location, allowing the stars to dominate the night sky and even offering views of aurora borealis from time to time.
The camera’s fisheye lens provides a round view of the sky with buildings and the surrounding landscape on the fringes. (Due to growing light pollution from Helena, viewers also will see a dome of light along the western edge of the camera’s view at night.) Daytime views can initially give one the impression of viewing the Earth from space, but the nighttime view of the sky through the camera is dramatic. And, because the camera captures the sky in color, the glows of auroras are recorded in all their spectral beauty.
In addition to a view of the sky, the camera offers predictions for auroras based on solar storms, an overlay of the constellations, nightly time-lapse videos, nightly keograms (snapshots showing all of the night sky’s activity in a single image), and images detailing the travels of the stars overhead each night.
The all-sky camera is oriented to face north and the overlay of the constellations, accessed by clicking a link to the left of the camera’s view, is based on date, time and GPS coordinates, Hannahoe said, adding that the overlay uses online data to keep the constellations accurate.
“We got the idea for the all-sky camera from an online do-it-yourself project video that explains how to construct the camera,” Hannahoe said. Hannahoe and his team made improvements to the original design, such as adding a heater that’s turned on and off by a light sensor, so it operates only at night. The heater was added to address distortion in the camera’s imaging caused by frost.
Funding for the project came from Hannahoe and the Montana Learning Center. The project was completed for about $750 plus 20 hours of staff labor. Non-do-it-yourself all-sky cameras cost $2,500 or more, Hannahoe noted. Viewers who want to build their own all-sky cameras can access the original online do-it-yourself project video that inspired Hannahoe by clicking the “Make Your Own” link in the lower righthand corner of the camera’s webpage.