The Springbank Community Association (SCA) is offering local residents a chance to discover the night sky in all its splendour –with the aid of some high-tech telescopes, binoculars, and a smart phone app – during four come-and-go sessions to be held in March.
Attendees will not be required to sign up or register beforehand, but are free to come and go as they please, according to the SCA's February newsletter. The Friday evening star-gazing sessions will take place on March 4, 11, 18, and 25 from 8 to 9 p.m. at the Westlife Church parking lot, located on the kitty-corner from Calaway Park.
While visitors are free to bring their own astronomy equipment, the SCA will provide visitors with the telescopes needed to better glimpse the solar system – including a large Cassegrain telescope.
“I have a grandson that really loves astronomy, and he has a large Cassegrain telescope,” said Ward 5 trustee for Rocky View Schools Judi Hunter, who spearheaded the initiative.
“We’ve been able to see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. We’ve been able to look at a star that looks like one star, but when you look through the telescope, you’ll see its two stars together.
“I thought that would be really neat for [Springbank residents] to see.”
She added she first came up with the idea after a trip to Phoenix, Ariz., where it is common to see locals hosting free astronomy nights that feature large and small telescopes, and subject-matter experts to guide visitors' experience.
“They always have somebody who loves astronomy, and they open up the big telescope and tell you what you’re looking at,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be great to do something like that [here]?’” she said.
Hunter added Duke of Edinburgh volunteers in Springbank – members of an international award program that encourages informal learning – will be available to demonstrate the Night Sky app and assist attendees with viewing the telescopes.
“We have the Duke of Edinburgh kids and part of their goal is community service,” she said. “And Westlife Church out here in Springbank is awesome about trying to connect community, so we hooked up with them to see if this would work.”
She added the Westlife Church parking lot was chosen as the ideal location for the event, as it is less obstructed by the artificial lighting common inside city limits.
Hunter cautioned the star-gazing events may be cancelled if the weather conditions are not ideal.
“It can only happen if the skies are clear, because if it’s overcast, you can’t really do that,” she said. “If the skies are clear, it’s really cool to see some of the things that are up there.”
According to Hunter, the inaugural night sky viewing event will provide a trial run for future iterations.
“We’ll give this a go, and if it works, then we can do other nights too,” she said. “Most people don’t have access to that kind of large telescope unless you’re joining an astronomical society.”
She added she is excited for kids to take part, considering the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused unnecessary damage on families through public health mandates and measures.
“Our poor little kids – where have they had a chance to do things?” she said. “So, to be able to have an event that’s free, available for family to learn something new and connect with others, I think is pretty awesome.”