Calgary facilities offer opportunities to gaze into the night and day skies

In the sky above our heads, a star dies; matter from a long dead galaxy collides in a dazzling display. Orbiting planets surround flickering stars, in the timeless balance of the spinning cosmos.

All these events may not be observable to the naked eye but Calgary has numerous facilities that will push your ability to see past the stratosphere and into this realm of space.

Calgary’s leading astronomy facility, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, 15 minutes south of Calgary near Millarville, Alta., has one of the largest telescopes in Canada, making it a perfect place to spend a night with the stars.

Phil Langill, observatory director said, “The winter is — especially with this recent weather — a fantastic time to look to the stars.

“Right now, we are getting fantastic views of Venus in the west, Mars and Jupiter.”

The observatory has four telescopes in varying sizes, one that was used during the Cold War era to monitor Soviet Union satellites, and another that can be remotely operated from anywhere in the world on the Internet.

With the cost of technology going down, it has made it possible for the observatory to update its equipment. “We can host more events open to the public. Instead of having X-ray slides that aren’t very interesting to look at, we can have a digital print-out almost immediately,” said Langill, pointing to an image of the sun taken minutes before.

ASTRONOMY DURING THE DAY

While it is true most observation of the sky is done at night, the daytime is not devoid of astronomical interest. Telus Spark, the new science centre in Calgary, conducts solar observation events, which invites visitors to spend time during the day looking safely towards the sun.

Standing before the observatories A.R. Cross telescope one of Canada’s largest.
Photo by: Kammryn Dancy
Telus Spark astronomer Alan Dyer spoke of the importance of astronomy, saying, “Kids love two things: first, dinosaurs; second, space. We don’t do dinosaurs; we definitely do space though.”

Construction on the science centre’s new planetarium is scheduled to be finished in April, and hopes are high for its unveiling. “We built a new astronomy program, we are installing a database for our projector so we can look anywhere in the sky we want,” said Dyer.

But just because the planetarium has yet to be completed doesn’t suggest astronomy isn’t there to be discovered at Telus Spark.

CELESTIAL LECTURES

On Feb. 18, at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, Langill will be hosting a lecture outside under the stars concerning the mysteries of black holes.

The Rothney observatory has four telescopes used for sky observation.
Photo by: Kammryn Dancy
A black hole, in the most basic sense, is the opposite of a supernova. Within black holes occurs such immense gravitational energy; everything in the vicinity – including light – is pulled to the centre of the black hole.

The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is open for drop-in visits during the day.

Jennifer Howse of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory said, “We are always busy… sometimes it can be overwhelming the amount of interest we have.”

Last year, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory had between eight and nine thousand visitors, said Howse.

NORTHERN LIGHTS

Then again it is a possibility that you may reserve your nights for sleep and need something with more brevity. Not to worry, due to solar flare activity from the sun, the skies should be dancing with light in the north.

If you are able to temporarily evade the oppressive light of the city, you may find it possible to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Due to the sun reaching its peak in an 11-year cycle, areas surrounding Calgary for the next few months will hopefully be able to see the Northern Lights.

“It’s not that common to see the lights so far south as Calgary, expectation is in the next months to see some spectacular demonstrations,” said Langill.

kdancy@cjournal.ca