Museum to build planetarium with grant funding
March 13, 2020
Carter County Museum (CCM) was recently awarded a $38,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce through the Eastern Montana Tourism Initiative Grant Program. The funding will be used to construct a planetarium dome on museum grounds in hopes of attracting more visitors.
In the spring and summer of 2019, the Carter County Museum brought a portable planetarium to eleven communities and over 2,500 students throughout the state of Montana. Part of the StarLab Rural Outreach Program by Carter County Museum and Museum of the Rockies (MOR), the planetarium was purchased by MOR and loaned to CCM for the duration of the project. Attendees and hosts of the StarLab repeatedly asked whether such a resource would be available in Eastern Montana in the future, indicating a strong interest.
To answer this demand, Carter County Museum proposed the construction of a planetarium dome on museum grounds and the establishment of regular programming for school audiences and museum visitors throughout the region. Once constructed, the planetarium will be the only publicly accessible planetarium within a 400 mile radius. Museum staff hope that it will draw visitors from nearby states such as Wyoming, North and South Dakota, and Canada.
Out of a total of 5,844 visitors at CCM in 2019, 41 percent were nonresident visitors and 28 percent were from out of the area. Students who attended the planetarium frequently returned with their entire families, contributing to exponential growth.
In the grant application, museum director Sabre Moore stated that: “Building this planetarium in Southeastern Montana will be an important infrastructure asset to developing astrotourism as an Eastern Montana product. Eastern Montana is one of the few places in the United States with dark skies that enable the view of the Milky Way and in some cases, the Northern Lights, making it an ideal target for astrotoursim. Planetariums inspire interest in the night sky and give audiences the ability to view constellations, learn cultural stories, the history of space travel, and the composition of the earth and other planets. The sun does not set until after 9 p.m. in the summer and the planetarium would be a bridge between daytime activities and star parties in nearby state parks and the national forest. All will contribute to the understanding of the value of Montana’s big sky, natural history, and indigenous cultures.”
The museum is currently waiting on paperwork from the state, but staff members hope to have the new planetarium ready to go by mid to late June of this year.