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| May 2024 |

Montana Learning Center to Host Stargazing Nights at Largest Public-Use Observatory in Montana

For three weekends this summer, Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake will open its state-of-the-art astronomical park to the public. The park consists of three observatories housing five telescopes, including the largest public-use telescope in Montana. The park is the largest astronomical facility of its kind open to the public in the Northwestern United States.

Each event will begin after sunset with a presentation and question & answer session with one of the Learning Center’s experts, followed by a tour of the night sky using the Center’s world-class telescopes. Each night’s presentation and tour of the night sky will be different.

Learning Center staff and volunteers from the Helena Astronomical Society will conduct the tours of the night sky, answer visitors’ questions about the telescopes and what they’re seeing through them and provide other assistance as needed.

The first two events will be held on June 28 & June 29, and will feature Dr. Darci Snowden, 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.

The events on July 12 & July 13 will feature professional astronomer and Mars Society Observatory Director Peter Detterline. 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 prestigious Thomas Brennan Award for exceptional achievement in teaching astronomy.

The final events on August 2 & August 3 will feature James Manning, 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.

Attendance at each event is limited to 100 people and advance ticket purchase is required. Tickets are $25 per adult (age 18 and over) and $15 per child per event. Attendees must be 12 years old or older. Tickets are non-refundable and the events will be held rain or shine, with night-sky observing being weather-permitting.

Beyond the Big Sky is sponsored by Visit Southwest Montana, Visit Helena Montana, Montana Space Grant Consortium and Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake.

For more information or to register, please visit the event webpage: https://montanalearning.org/beyond-big-sky/.

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