Friday, 09 September 2011 08:41

Cypress Hills observatory now in focus

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By Aasa Marshall — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 There are few places more ideal for star gazing than Cypress Hills Provincial Park, and with the installation of a new observatory, the conditions are only improving.


The new facility, which features a 60-seat classroom, a 14-inch Celestron telescope, a 12-inch Dobsian telescope, and outside telescope platforms, was made possible by the fundraising efforts of The Friends of Cypress Hills, and in-kind contributions by the park.

The result is a facility that will let more people learn from the park’s uniquely dark skies.

The observatory was officially opened Aug. 25.

The Friends of Cypress Hills raised around $130,000 through gala dinners, raffles, golf tournaments and corporate and individual donations; the park invested in the facility’s water, electricity and bathrooms. All of the labour to construct the observatory was volunteered. With the new yurt-style classroom, and a video camera attached to the telescopes, up to 60 students can observe the night skies at a time. The new facility will allow the park to expand on its programming, said Friends of Cypress Hills CEO Gerald Gartner.

“What we’re doing here is giving them another tool they can use for children and adults to learn about the dark skies, the importance of dark skies, and the importance of what the celestial stars did for ourselves and our ancestors,” Gartner said. “It’s a learning tool, a teaching tool.”

The new telescopes can enhance one’s vision 100 to 200 times what can be seen with the naked eye.

Melody Nagel-Hisey, Park Area Naturalist with Cypress Hills, said the park provides programming for both school groups and for the public about astronomy. With the observatory the park can focus on constellations, planets, and star gazing on a scale not done before, and will bring in specific school groups to pilot new programs in the new future. In the summer the park will extend its current Friday night star gazing activities to the new facility. Programs will also include information about how stars were used in the past as navigation tools, and about the differences between First Nations and European stories about constellations. Nagel-Hisey said their educational programs also include information about the importance of dark skies and limiting light pollution, not just for viewing the stars, but for the life cycles of animals, plants, and insects.

The Regina and Saskatoon chapters of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) attend the park each year for their Summer Star Party, and in recent years recommended that Cypress Hills be designated a Dark Sky Preserve. The park acquired that designation in 2004, and since then park officials have striven to further reduce light pollution, or lights that point skyward.

The RASC held its 15th annual Summer Star Party from Aug. 25-27; one of the largest gatherings of stargazers in North America with a number of speakers and workshops for participants.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new observatory took place on Aug. 25.

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