Dark Sky Festival brings the stars within reach

Dark Sky Festival brings the stars within reach
Among the treats at this year’s Dark Sky Festival will be two new powerful telescopes, excellent for taking detailed pictures of the night sky. Photo: Bill Braden.

Whether you enjoy spending your evenings studying the night sky or watching the latest offerings from the SPACE channel, the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Astronomical Society (TAWBAS) invites you to come out and enjoy the offerings from the annual Dark Sky Festival.

Over the last three years, the celebration of space has gained popularity with mentions in the Globe and Mail and Sky News. This weekend, astronomers of all expertise levels will be traveling to the dark sky preserve near Pine Lake in Wood Buffalo National Park for a weekend of fun and experiential learning. Whether you enjoy spending your evenings studying the night sky or watching the latest offerings from the SPACE channel, the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Astronomical Society (TAWBAS) invites you to come out and enjoy the offerings from the annual Dark Sky Festival.

“Unfortunately, science is seen as something that is for an elite few, and we really don’t feel that way,” said TAWBAS vice-chair Bruce Buckley. “Most star parties or dark sky festivals, they generally aren’t centered around the public and outreach. It’s less of a family event and more people with telescopes and people interested in looking through telescopes. That’s not what our event is about; our whole mandate is to reach out to the community and try to educate people about science and make it something that’s accessible.”

Every year, TAWBAS has been able to pull in a series of star-studded special presenters, including famed Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar.

On the schedule this year is Chicago’s Alder Planetarium astronomer Michelle Nichols. In addition to sharing a presentation built for scientists at NASA on Friday evening, she will be discussing the science behind the Oscar-winning feature film Interstellar.

For those looking for a more hands-on experience, circumpolar photographer Yuichi Takasaka will be leading several workshops, giving lessons on the best way to capture the glory of the galaxy at night.
“He’s renowned for his Aurora photography,” said TAWBAS chair Mike Couvrette. “He’s traveled around the circumpolar regions, taken photos in the Northwest Territories, Alaska, Finland, Iceland and he’s also traveled to Tasmania to take pictures of the southern lights.”

In addition to testing out their skills on regular DSLR cameras, registered guests are invited to try out TAWBAS’ new ultra-powerful telescopes.

“This is the first time those will actually be used,” Couvrette said. “Our new primary telescope is an 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain and that’s got a special mount (for camera bodies). We’ll be able to use it for high-end astrophotography. Our other new big scope is a 12-inch Dobsonian.”

Eventually, these telescopes will be featured at a new observatory, soon to be constructed near Fort Smith’s airport.

“We’ve come up with a list of deep-sky objects, things that you can’t really see with binoculars or the naked eye,” Couvrette said. “We’ll see a couple of galaxies and nebulas and we’ve been able to find a star that’s quite visible from here that is a sibling of our sun, born in the same nebula cloud.”

As always, a host of activities for children will be featured throughout the festival. On Friday, Yellowknife’s stellar Prof. Quark will lead a series of science experiments at Mission Park in Fort Smith following the popular NTPC Circus of Science and the launch of the Science Academy model rocket building session.

Participants will spend Saturday in Wood Buffalo, learning throughout the day and stargazing once the sun sets. Traditionally, most will set up tents and campers so they can spend the night and get the full effect of the dark sky.

“One of the things is keeping our night vision is important once it does get dark,” Buckley said. He recommended that drivers park strategically so as not to blind other participants and to bring flashlights that are somewhat dim.

Those interested in attending the Dark Sky festival can head to http://www.tawbas.ca/ to find the schedule and to register. Registration closes on Aug. 18 at 6:00 p.m.

“Come down, have a good time and enjoy the company. Our presenters are very approachable and I think whether you’re coming with family or not, it’s a fun event,” Buckley said. “We’ve been extremely lucky that it’s always been crystal-clear skies every year that we’ve done it so there’s every reason to believe that we’ll have crystal-clear skies again.”

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Social Networks