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Montana Learning Center launches remote, research-grade telescope for classrooms

Posted at 6:04 PM, Dec 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 22:04:57-05

The Montana Learning Center (MLC) has launched a remote, research-grade telescope in New Mexico that will be accessible to students and teachers.

With just a click of a mouse, science teachers across Montana, and the rest of the United States, will be able to access a 16-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope located at New Mexico Skies remote observatory for use in their classroom.

“For a school to afford a $100,000 telescope, it’s unheard of,” said Ryan Hannahoe, executive director of the Montana Learning Center. “So we’re essentially providing opportunities that college students at the graduate level have now in middle school and high school.”

MLC has partnered with Montana State University National Teacher Enhancement Network to offer a free course for teachers to get certified in the use of the telescope and learn how to integrate it into their classroom.

“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.”

The telescope is specialized for deep sky which will allow for a much clearer image than a personal telescope.

Detterline the program will eventually integrate research filters, and allow for that research to be published.

“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.

The course will contribute 30 hours of Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) renewal units toward the 60 units required of Montana teachers every five years by OPI.

“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,” said Hannahoe.

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

“It’s really hard to get grants these days,” said Hannahoe. “To have donors support these types of efforts is tremendous, and it really advances what we can do for science education here in the state.”

MLC, located at Canyon Ferry, is home to a 14-inch robotic telescope and a 25-inch aperture telescope, Montana’s largest public-use telescope.

The first course for the remote telescope program is starting up in January 2020, but space is limited to 15 spots.

Teachers who are interested in being part of the program should contact the Montana Learning Center for more information.