Observatory brings milky way nights

Calgarians will have the opportunity to experience the night sky in a way few city dwellers can this weekend

The University of Calgary Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is hosting Milky Way Nights August 7-11, allowing the public to learn more about the galaxy and see U of C researchers at work.

“I think astronomy in general really is an amazing thing, it affects all of us,” said Jennifer Howse, RAO education programs manager. “It has to do with our place in the universe, having to understand our planet and then understanding our planet in relation to the solar system and then our galaxy and beyond that.”

Howse said people tend to talk about the planets and stars conceptually, “but when you have a chance to see it through a telescope it becomes very real and it’s very cool for that opportunity.”

RAO projects include asteroid hunting, star research and a recent study that looked at the amount of light the station receives from Calgary.

“Calgary is a terrible light polluter,” said Howse. “If you’ve ever seen those NASA pictures that they take from space when they look at the Earth, Calgary is lit up like a Christmas tree.”

The measurements helped the RAO have a dark skies bylaw put into place in areas immediately surrounding the observatory, but even with the nearby rural areas reducing their light the observatory still sees light pollution seeping in from Calgary.

“We’re not saying to people, ‘Turn your lights off,’ ” said Howse. “Because people need lights for their barns or driveways or whatever, but we ask people to put a cap over top into the sky.”

The late night observing starts at 10 p.m. and runs until 2 a.m.­–regular working hours for astronomers. The event gives people the chance to come and see them in action, weather permitting of course.

“I always cross my fingers,” said Howse, hoping for clear skies. “So far it looks good, Saturday looks great. But we definitely encourage people to check the website for updates.”

A $20 donation per car goes directly to fund educational programming at the RAO.

Howse suggests people dress for chilly weather and bring flashlights as the area is kept dark.

The RAO is about 20 minutes outside of Calgary from Macleod trail.

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