The Summer Star Party is celebrating its 20th year of existence. The annual gathering of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada runs until Aug. 7 at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and features many interesting events for the public. The continued success of the Summer Star Party is due in no small part to the input of locals.
Several years ago, the Friends of Cypress Hills Park had a vision to promote astronomy in the province. They formed a fundraising committee to oversee the ways and means to generate the $200,000 dollars that was needed to build an observatory at the interprovincial park.
Cypress Park already had an established astronomy program that would run every week throughout the summer. It was open to the public, but also attracted students by the thousands. The programming was very good, but took place outside and was subject to the windy and chilly Cypress Hills nights that sometimes made viewing uncomfortable or altogether impossible. Also, the equipment that was used needed to be portable, which meant that the telescopes couldn’t be too big.
To expand the program, the Friends built an observatory with a large telescope and an adjoining classroom. The telescope is a 14-inch Celestron.
To raise money, the group conducted a variety of fundraising activities such as golf tournaments and pancake breakfasts. They also sought corporate and private sponsorship. To raise awareness for their project, they distributed pamphlets and brochures.
Apart from the new observatory, the park is a dark sky preserve, which means it’s a designated area where the effects of light pollution are diminished to protect darkness as a way to help nocturnal plants and animals. The park has also converted Horseshoe Campground into campsites specifically intended for observing the night sky.
The idea of the dark sky campground is to maintain a dark area for those who are interested in viewing a dark sky without any light pollution or lighting that would be in other campgrounds.
Campers are asked to follow some guidelines to ensure the best viewing experience for everyone. For example, vehicle lighting or flashlights need to be switched off or covered with red cellophane. This is because white light affects your eyes and it takes a long time for them to become accustomed to darkness again once you’ve had that glare from a white light.
There are very few if any other astronomy campgrounds in the province. It’s certainly the first in the provincial park system.
The dark-sky criteria is established by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada who’s interested in preserving the night sky not just for the enjoyment of humans, but also for the benefits it brings to plant and animal life. The park achieved this designation because of its relative darkness and plans for future light pollution controls.
I invite you to check out the activities planned for the Summer Star Party. There are great speakers as well as a host of chances to view the sky and discover parts of it you may not have known exist.
On a closing note, the Perseid Meteor Shower will be visible Aug. 11 – 13. This is another great opportunity to enjoy our night skies and to witness shooting stars.