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| January 2020 |

The Montana Learning Center Launches Research-grade Remote Telescope for Students and Teachers

With a click of a computer mouse, science teachers nationwide will soon be able to open a window for students to explore the wonders of the night sky.

The distant light of galaxies, star clusters and nebulae will become part of students learning and doing research through free online training offered to science teachers by the Montana Learning Center, located at Canyon Ferry Lake outside of Helena.

This training will allow teachers to use the Montana Learning Center’s 16-inch research-grade Ritchey-Chretien telescope for classroom projects and to also train students in the telescope’s use.

Teachers can register for the course here:

“It’s exciting for us at the Montana Learning Center to partner with Montana State University’s National Teacher Enhancement Network on this opportunity,” said Ryan Hannahoe, executive director of the Montana Learning Center.

“The Spring 2020 course serves as the groundwork for a proposed three-credit graduate course for teachers. The remote telescope is a key part of our astronomy program.”

Teacher training is through a 30-hour course provided by Montana State University in Bozeman that can be completed between Jan. 27 and March 13. The course will contribute 30 hours of Montana Office of Public Instruction renewal units toward the 60 units required of Montana teachers every five years by OPI.

The course will focus on how to use the robotic telescope and astrophotography. There will be an emphasis on converting those images for use in student projects.

“For this first class, the projects will be driven by astrophotography. Projects depend on what teachers’ needs are in the classroom,” said course instructor Peter Detterline, “but I’ve successfully used student images to teach stellar evolution, galaxy morphology, asteroid velocity, the orbits of the moons of Uranus and discovery programs looking for supernovae, asteroids or comets. There are many possibilities.”

“At the end of the first class, we will have a project database set up online where teachers can get ideas and post their own projects and experiments to share with others.”

“For later classes, we will be getting photometric filters so students and teachers can actually do real, publishable research such as variable star measurements,” Detterline said.

Use of the telescope is made possible through a donation by Christian Perez valued at $12,000 per year and the telescope hosting is through the generosity of Mike and Lynn Rice of New Mexico Remote Observatories and valued at $18,000 per year.

“Amateur astronomers would pay hundreds of dollars a night to use this type of telescope with its imaging capability.” Detterline noted.

 “If a student or teacher wants to learn about astronomy, in most cases they have only a textbook to access,” Hannahoe, of the Montana Learning Center, said. “Very rarely do students and teachers have access to telescopes and even more rarely telescopes located at world-renown observatories. We aim to provide that resource to them so that they can have access to research-grade equipment.”

“In 2001, I was able to help put the first fully remote controllable telescope on the Internet for students and teachers to use,” Hannahoe said. “It is a real pleasure to come full circle since then and provide students and teachers with a similar opportunity that I received as a child. For me, it was life changing and sparked a lifelong passion for astronomy.”

Hannahoe can be reached through the Montana Learning Center website at or email at  

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