U of A dark sky observatory to be a first in western Canada

EDMONTON — The University of Alberta will become Western Canada’s only university with a dark sky preserve observatory when it opens its new facility in Miquelon Lake Provincial Park Tuesday.

“This is one of the only observatories that has the benefit of being in a designated dark sky preserve,” Glynnis Hood, manager of the research station and an environmental sciences professor at Augustana Campus, said in a news release. “We can now have a very unhindered view of the sky, and to be able to see it in a more natural format reflects the importance of having dark sky preserves.”

The Hesje Observatory will allow stargazers from the public, local schools, as well as U of A students and researchers to take advantage of its dark sky location.

“It provides so many more opportunities for teaching and research for our students,” department chair for the U of A Augustana campus, Peter Berg, told CTV News Edmonton. “There is very little light pollution here so it makes a huge difference and you can see objects beyond the Milky Way.”

Hesje Observatory

As the name suggests, a dark sky preserve observatory allows its users the opportunity to view the night sky unhindered by light pollution. 

“Deep sky objects are like nebulas and galaxies and those kinds of things that you would never get a chance to see if there was more light pollution,” said U of A research assistant, Rae Metrunec.

The project was initially meant to be a high-quality telescope for astrophysics classes, but morphed into the construction of the observatory, physics professor Gerhard Lotz said in a news release.

“It gives us something to hang onto during these hard times of the pandemic—that there are things out there that are worthwhile and beautiful and exciting,” said Lotz.

Construction of the new facility was funded by a $500,000 donation from U of A alumnus and retired businessman Brian Hesje.

A virtual ceremony will be held Tuesday to officially open the observatory, located 80 kilometers southeast of Edmonton, at the Augustana Miquelon Lake Research Station.

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