Saskatchewan may be the Land of Living Skies, but Alberta is no slouch when it comes to expanses of Prairie skies! The wild blue yonder is a thing to behold at any time of day, but once the stars come out is when the sky really shines! (I’m sorry, I can’t help myself with the sky clichés.) The constant glow generated by artificial light makes it difficult for scientists to study celestial bodies, and for us regular types to star-gaze. It isn’t impossible, it just takes a little special effort to make the most of the night sky, and we’ve got 5 cool Ways to Get Your Kids Excited about Star Gazing!
Gateway to the Stars: The Dark Sky initiative is a response to the ever shrinking availability of a truly dark night-time sky. Elk Island National Park is part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, an area which has received recognition for cutting down (and is some spots eliminating) artificial light, and for advertising ways visitors can help keep it dark. Several programs are offered throughout the year that give you a chance to gather with a knowledgeable Parks Canada interpreter and be guided through some of the constellations and stories of the stars. I learned a bunch about the night sky, including that I might not have a wild enough imagination to see constellations, but we saw 2 shooting stars (ok, satellites) and that was pretty cool.
Aurora Watch: At the Dark Sky Campfire I attended, I had the pleasure of meeting a woman from Southern California who had come to Edmonton on a Northern Lights hunt. She introduced me to the website Aurora Watch, a network of skygazers who alert each other to aurora borealis activity in the region. Sign up for email alerts when the likelihood of aurora activity is high.
Evening Paddle: During the warmer months, Haskin Canoe operates guided full moon tours. You have your choice of renting a kayak (single or tandem,) a canoe, or taking a place in the large voyager canoes. The guided paddles take place under the moon on Astotin Lake in Elk Island Park, and on the North Saskatchewan River, through the city, running from Laurier Park to Capilano Park. These tours are best suited for older kids and adults.
Public Observatories: Every Thursday night during the school year, the Observatory at the University of Alberta is open for free public viewing for an hour. During the first half hour is a presentation from a guest speaker, so even if it’s cloudy, a trip out is still worth it! There is also an observatory on the grounds of TWOSE that is free to the public. It is staffed by volunteers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, as well as in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, and during special astronomical events. See the calendar on the website for more details.
Jasper Dark Sky Festival: If you really want to Get Your Kids Excited about Star Gazing, the annual Dark Sky Festival in Jasper is dedicated to the wonders of the night sky! Every year amazing guests come out for presentations, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra travels for a special presentation of Symphony under the Stars, and special events, learning opportunities and star gazing abound!