Clear starry skies a 20-minute drive from Calgary

raoIt was standing room only as students, senior citizens and young families crowded into the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory in late September. Each month, the observatory holds an open house where guests are treated to information sessions and tours of the primary research facilities for the University of Calgary’s department of physics and astronomy.

The evening was entertaining for guests such as Ali Habash, from Canmore, who said he was “having a fantastic time,” and “was totally geeked out.”

Those attending the open house got to explore various areas throughout the observatory, as well as look through a variety of telescopes at the night sky – with many experienced astronomers on hand from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to identify the stars and planets.

The observatory is home to one of the largest telescopes in Canada, the Sandy Cross, which is 1.8 metres in diameter.

Alan Dyer, a retired planetarium producer for TELUS Spark spoke at the event, and he said the real treat is looking at the night sky without the glare of city lights.

“The observatories open house programs provide a superb opportunity for people to see the stars away from the glare of urban light pollution, and at an accessible top-class facility well equipped for public outreach. That’s rare for any city,” Dyer said.

telescopeThe Sandy Cross telescope located at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is one of the three largest telescopes in Canada.

Photo by Erica Pollock
Phil Langill, director of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and a professor at the U of C, said while the observatory is also integral for research being done at the U of C, it is great that they can also provide informational and entertaining nights for Calgarians.

“Giving the general public and science students the opportunity to improve their science literacy and the opportunity to get to know some friendly people who are involved in science research might foster Canada’s next top scientists,” Langill wrote in an email.

While the observatory was originally created for research and teaching by co-directors Gene Milone and Alan Clark in 1972, the teaching component has been greatly expanded in recent years, Langill wrote.

“Students now learn the ‘nuts and bolts’ of observational astrophysics using an array of remotely controllable telescopes. Students study such things as the rotational dynamics of our Milky Way galaxy, the chemical makeup of the stars and planets, and environmental conditions of star forming regions.”

The next open house at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is on Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

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