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Look up, way up: Milky Way Nights event this weekend

Rothney Astrophysical Observatory invites Calgarians to discover wonders of space
July 22, 2015
Milky Way Nights runs July 23, 24, and 25, starting at 10 p.m. each evening. Image courtesy Rothney Astrophysical Observatory

Milky Way Nights runs July 23, 24, and 25, starting at 10 p.m. each evening. Image courtesy Rothney Astrophysical Observatory

Close to Calgary, but far from the city lights, the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO) gives visitors the chance to explore the universe from a hilltop at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

For three nights this weekend, the RAO will host Milky Way Nights, an opportunity for the public to come and observe the dark night sky alongside the RAO researchers. The dark sky conditions are perfect for viewing planetary nebula, globular clusters, distant galaxies and small planets like Pluto as the new moon approaches, from Thursday, July 23, through Saturday, July 25.

Milky Way Nights are special evenings at the observatory, solely dedicated to observing and touring the incredible summer sky through the telescopes, and by eye.

“We pick these nights because it’s a nice, warm time of year, and with the moon setting shortly after sunset, it gets really nice and dark. If you want to see faint objects you need the moon out of the way,” explains Phil Langill, director of the RAO and senior instructor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Each evening during the Milky Way Nights, RAO astronomers will lead a sky tour outside on their viewing terrace and point out some of the highlights of the summer sky (Saturn is visible in July and August!). Visitors will be able to observe the sky through an array of telescopes operated by University of Calgary astronomers and members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

“Our typical open house public events end around 11 p.m., and in the summer the sky is just getting dark at that time. So we decided to open the doors during the summer quite late, hoping a few people would drop in,” Langill says.  "Some of our largest crowds have come to Milky Way Nights and we’ve even had to shoo folks out at 2 a.m.!”

Event details:

  • Dates: July 23, 24, 25, 2015
  • Time: Drop in between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Pre-registration not required. Stay 15 minutes or an hour.
  • Entrance fee: donation to RAO educational programming

Although the Interpretive Centre is open, sky viewing is out of doors, so be sure to dress for the weather. Visitors are welcome to bring a red (or dim) flashlight.