Star Party at Pompeys Pillar, Montana
There's a scheduled Star Party Friday night east of Billings at Pompeys Pillar National Monument (photo above). It will be the night of the first quarter Moon and will include presentations on how to take photos of the night sky, preserving dark skies in Montana and information about bats. It's free and you're encouraged to bring a flashlight (red light is preferable). It's along the Yellowstone River, so bring insect repellent and a folding chair or blanket. The evening will start at 7:30 p.m. and wrap up about 11:30 p.m.
However, you can see the night sky about anywhere in the rural areas of Montana with our dark nights. Here's a brief idea of what's visible this time of year. First of all, the Moon getting brighter - on its way to Full moon on June 24, which will be the Strawberry Moon. First quarter moon Friday is pretty much a Half-moon and you can see great mountains and craters in the shadows on the moon's surface with a small telescope or good binoculars. By the way, the planet Venus is pretty close to the Moon right now and they'll be very close companions in the sky again on July 11, August 10 and September 9. Look before midnight.
You might see a meteor or two on any night, but the big Perseids meteor shower isn't until August 12-13, with a slow build-up beginning in late July. There's another shower in October, the Draconids will peak about October 7th.
The easiest constellation to see is the Big Dipper, Ursa Major. Looking north, the stars outline the water dipper with cup and handle. Look above the front of the cup and you can see Polaris, the North Star, which stays in the same place every night as the Earth rotates and the constellations appear to move in a circle around it. Polaris is also the tail end of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is upside down above the Big Dipper.
Other constellations to look for in the summer include Scorpio and Sagittarius to the south and Corona Borealis to the Southeast. They are all near what is called the Summer Triangle - three bright stars high in the sky - Deneb, Vega and Altair. Get the family and friends involved, grab a star guide off the internet or at your favorite book store and enjoy the view. For more information on the Billings star party, call the Pompeys Pillar National Monument at 406 875-2400. You can also find out how Lewis and Clark are associated with the pillar.