Missoula

Dark Skies + Stargazing in Glacier Country

By September 9, 2019 No Comments
Dark Skies + Stargazing in Glacier Country

Glacier Country is revered for our big blue skies and seemingly endless views of awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets. But a well-kept secret is that these endless blue skies turn into jaw-dropping starry nights. Glacier National Park is internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park, but, throughout Western Montana, our skies deliver, night after night. We’ve made it easy to enjoy our starry nights with observatories throughout the region. Lay out a blanket and count the stars in Glacier Country.

Come see the Milky Way in Western Montana. Photo: Nicholas Parker

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK DARK SKIES

Glacier National Park is one of 26 parks to be internationally recognized as a Dark Sky Park and the first park to span an international boarder—the designation extending into the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Glacier National Park received this designation for its minimal light and air pollution, a commitment to prevent light and air pollution, and the broad, unending expanse of sky over the park creates a distinguished quality of starry nights. Camp overnight next to an aquamarine glacial lake, get cozy fireside and enjoy the unmatched view; if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a falling star.

You won’t want to miss nighttime in Glacier National Park. Photo: Jacob Frank/NPS

STAR DOME AT ST. MARY

At the east entrance to Glacier National Park sits St. Mary. New this year to the park is the St. Mary Observatory, funded by Glacier National Park Conservancy. The Star Dome is equipped with a 20-inch telescope, one of the largest telescopes in the National Park Service and the largest in Montana, which gives visitors high-resolution views of planets, galaxies and nebulae. If you’re not looking through the telescope you can view the images on one of two 55-inch monitors mounted on the observatory. The Half the Park Happens After Dark program hosts guided viewing and star parties June through September on clear nights at rotating locations.

Our big blue skies appear endless on a starry night. Photo: Ray Stinson

STAR GAZING ROOM: PAYNE FAMILY NATIVE AMERICAN CENTER

The Payne Family Native American Center, located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, was the first campus facility in the nation built specifically for a Department of Native American Studies and American Indian Student Services. One of the newest additions to the center is the Star Gazing Room, which hosts celestial stargazing shows open to the public. Learn about the constellations, planets and upcoming celestial events. Each show will also cover a unique topic from star lore of different cultures to the evolution of our universe.

Stay cozy inside while exploring the galaxy. Photo: Todd Goodrich

BLUE MOUNTAIN OBSERVATORY

In Missoula, the Blue Mountain Observatory sits atop Blue Mountain at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It’s about a 45-minute drive from the heart of downtown Missoula, a perfect distance from town resulting in minimal light pollution. Attend a public observation night to explore planets, star clusters, distant galaxies and nebulae. You’ll also learn how to spot celestial objects with binoculars or the naked eye. Bring a blanket and bundle up—a treasure trove of stars and sweeping views of the Milky Way await.

Book early to secure your ticket to an observation night at Blue Mountain Observatory. Photo: Ashley Juric

SIGHTING OPPORTUNITIES

Northern Lights: When the earth’s magnetic field has been energized from solar events it will send charged electrons toward the poles. These collide with the upper atmosphere and produce light that we call the northern lights or aurora borealis. You can sometimes view the northern lights from the northern parts of Western Montana. Glacier National Park, the Northwest Corridor and the East Glacier Corridor are prime viewing areas. For a picture-perfect experience head to Glacier National Park, or travel just a bit out of town on one of our scenic corridors. Northern lights are most active between September and March.

Chase the Northern Lights in Glacier Country. Photo: Noah Couser

Harvest Moon: In ancient times it was common to use the phases of the moon to track the year, instead of the solar year, which we now use. Each month’s full moon was given a special name based on the characteristics associated with that month. During the fall equinox, when the harvest moon is full, the moon rises almost as the sun sets. This slight change makes a much lighter night. It is thought that farmers would work later into the night harvesting crops, hence the origin of the term ‘harvest moon.’ Western Montana has deep farming roots; come pay homage to our roots and join us in celebrating the fall harvest and harvest moon.

There’s something magical about an evening spent under the moon in Montana. Photo: Donnie Sexton


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