Public Observing

Summer 2016 Public Observing Nights

Star trails and observatory

UM astronomers and Western Montana Astronomical Association (WMAA) members will be on hand at all events to talk about what you are seeing through the telescopes, discuss current discoveries, point out constellations and share star stories from different cultures, and demonstrate how to find interesting celestial objects with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.  (It's fun to bring binoculars if you have them.)  In addition to our 16” telescope, WMAA members will also have a variety of scopes set up outside the dome and will be happy to discuss any questions you may have about astronomical instrumentation as well.

Because our observing nights have become so popular, we now have to limit the number of visitors we can accommodate each night in order to insure a quality experience for everyone. To secure a spot, we ask that you reserve a free ticket for each person in your group via Eventbrite. We will have a copy of the reservations list at the observatory (so no worries if you forget to bring your tickets).  Start times for each observing date are listed on the BMO home page.

The Eventbrite site also allows donations that will help us keep BMO FREE and open to the public.  Blue Mountain nights are run as a labor of love by many volunteers, but we do like to support our student observing assistants and have enough funds left to pay for gas and the occasional equipment maintenance.  No donation is too small!  We are very appreciative of any support you may feel inspired to give.  If your reservation date has to be cancelled due to clouds or smoke, we automatically refund all donations for that night. 

Eventbrite - Blue Mountain Observatory Open House - 2016

To insure a safe and enjoyable night for everyone, please be aware of the following:

  • For most people, the drive to the top of Blue Mountain takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour from downtown Missoula.  The dirt road tends to develop washboard, but is passable to all cars all the way to the fire lookout.  There are a few spots which are a bit narrow for passing and have steep drop-offs, so please drive carefully and respect the fact that you will be sharing this backcountry road with many other Blue Mountain guests.
  • Early in the night, there will be a student intern stationed in the parking area near the fire lookout.  Please park so that you DO NOT block the road.  If you are unsure where to park, how to get to the observatory, or have any other questions, the intern will be happy to help you out.  Parking on the summit ridge is limited and we encourage guests to carpool whenever possible.
  • To insure these events remain safe and family-friendly, NO ALCOHOL is allowed.
  • Our observatory is located at an elevation of 6,300 feet.  Even when summer days are hot in Missoula, it can get quite cold on the mountain.  It always pays to bring more clothes (coat, hat, gloves, scarf) than you think you will need!  You can always leave them in your car if it turns out you don’t need them.
  • The observatory is about 400 yards down a rough dirt road from where you will park.  You should have comfortable walking shoes and a good flashlight or headlamp for your walk to and from the observatory.
  • If we have to cancel:  Viewing nights will be canceled if the sky is cloudy, thunderstorms threaten, or if there is significant smoke or there are nearby fires.  If you leave us a current e-mail address when you reserve your tickets through Eventbrite, you will receive an update on observing conditions during the early evening hours on the date of the open house.  We will also post an announcement on our Facebook page.  For those who may not have convenient web access, we will post a voicemail message confirming or cancelling observing at (406) 243-4299.  Messages may not be posted until 7 pm the night of observing if conditions are highly uncertain.  Make sure that you confirm we will be on the mountain before you go!

Some useful links:

Eventbrite site for Blue Mountain Observatory open house night reservations

Western Montana Astronomical Association

Astronomy Clubs in Montana

Missoula Clear Sky Chart (high time resolution forecast to see if it is likely we will be observing)

Astronomy Picture of the Day (outstanding source for exploration of all things astronomical- fully linked and searchable)