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| October 2021 |

Montana Learning Center to expand the largest observatory in Montana with gift from Mike and Lynn Rice of New Mexico Skies

The largest observatory in Montana, housed at the Montana Learning Center, will add a state-of-the-art telescope thanks to a generous donation by Mike and Lynn Rice of New Mexico Skies Remote Observatories. The couple is gifting Mike’s personal, custom made, 24″ research-grade robotic telescope to the MLC. It will be the largest robotic telescope in the state, and further enhance the astronomy program of the MLC.

The telescope’s optics are ion milled, a technique that results in the most precise mirrors and lenses on the market, for an unparalleled look at the universe. Most people are familiar with visual telescopes, where a viewer looks through an eyepiece, but they are only as good as the user’s vision; by comparison, research-grade, robotic scopes can be outfitted with high resolution camera systems and other instrumentation to better study the night sky.

“This is the best telescope available in this class diameter,” said Ryan Hannahoe, executive director of the MLC. “And this will be the largest robotic, publicly accessible telescope in the state. It’s a tremendous addition to our campus, and will be a wonderful asset for our programs.”

The Rices, who are leading benefactors of the MLC, have a longstanding relationship with both the Learning Center and with Hannahoe. Hannahoe worked for them in high school and college at New Mexico Skies, their remote observatory site in southern New Mexico. “They really invest in people,” Hannahoe said. “Without them, we would not have the amazing astronomy program that we do at the Learning Center. Our astronomical park is named in their honor to recognize their vital role in building this program.”

Having a telescope of this quality at the MLC will also strengthen Montana’s emerging astrotourism programs, which are expected to draw more visitors to the Treasure State.

Hannahoe expects to have the third observatory open summer 2022.

For more information, please contact Ryan Hannahoe, Executive Director of the Montana Learning Center, at or 406-475-3638.



The Montana Learning Center at Canyon Ferry Lake offers youth summer camps in a variety of STEM fields, teacher learning opportunities, and the state’s premier astronomy program, featuring the largest public-use telescope in Montana. Montana Learning Center and Montana State University partner to facilitate NASA’s Northwest Earth & Space Science Pipeline in Montana, an outreach effort to strengthen aerospace education and outreach. The Center boasts a picturesque lakeside setting, which is ideal for exploring Montana’s geology and night sky.

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