RASC hosts free stargazing sessions to promote astronomy. Photo: CC, Ryan Wick via flickr.
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Stargazing culture ever-present in Ottawa

When most people think of culture, they might not think of looking up to the stars. However, according to a recent New York Times article, there has been a growing incorporation of astrotourism in North America over the past 30 years.

Astro-tourists are stargazing-lovers who travel to remote areas of the world, that haven’t been impacted by light pollution, to take in the night sky and make astronomical observations.

“In North America, it’s newer … we’re starting to see some of it attached to dark sky preserves, like at Jasper (National Park),” said Mike Moghadam, the vice-president of the Ottawa branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). “The skies aren’t great here (due to weather and light pollution) … I see a bit of it here, but not as much as in other locations.”

RASC is a pan-Canadian organization that seeks to unite like-minded astronomy lovers for monthly meetings, and space-related events.

Moghadam measures the presence of stargazing culture around Ottawa through the attendance of RASC’s events and global discussion. “Last summer, there was (a) partial solar eclipse, (and) from the huge amount of interest (by the public, I can tell) that people are interested out(side) of our (group). There’s definitely interest in it.”

Indeed, RASC intended to host a stargazing event, styled a Star Party, that would have been open to the public on Oct. 5; however, it was postponed to Oct. 12 due to cloud covering.

The event was meant to coincide with the beginning of the world space week, which the Canada Aviation and Space museum is paralleling with activities which will run from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10.  

On Friday, RASC kicked off the celebration in the museum’s theatre for their monthly meeting while museum officials explored the solar system in their planetarium, had an astronomy expert discuss space, and showed audiences how to make comets, in lieu of the outdoor stargazing.

“We know there are people who are interested in stargazing (that) don’t know how to get involved,” said Moghadam. “I think that the public stargazing sessions (are great because) you can look through many different types of telescopes … and (just) appreciate what you can see.”

Despite the novelty of astrotourism on our continent, love for the looking up to the night sky with telescopes is far from new. Moghadam explained to the Fulcrum that, over the years of hosting stargazing sessions, “we have shared views of the night-sky with tens of thousands of people.”

So, for many, while the museum’s presentations might have been unique, it is hard to compete with the grandeur of the night sky on a dark and cloudless night.

“They’re great events for people who don’t know how to get into astronomy,” said Moghadam. “We do it because we want to share our passion for stargazing.”

Want to attend one of RASC’s Star Parties? Check out their website for details.