Look up, way up, for some COVID-19 stress relief

Clearer skies make for moments of mental clarity, according to backyard astronomer Gary Boyle.

Clearer skies make for a great escape, according to backyard astronomer Gary Boyle

Venus appears as a moon-like crescent through a telescope. (Gary Boyle)

For some of us, there's stress relief to be had with sourdough baking. For others, it's backyard bird watching or a patio vegetable garden.

But according to Ottawa astronomy educator Gary Boyle, the stars can provide much-needed solace right now. You just have to look up.

"The night sky is therapy," said Boyle, who will be participating in International Astronomy Day on Saturday.

"You literally clear your mind of everything. We need more of that right now with COVID-19 and all the stress and anxiety out there."

Perhaps a happy coincidence, physical isolation measures are creating darker skies right now and making for even better stargazing.

"Overall the clarity of the nighttime sky, it seems darker, not as much light pollution. Of course heavy rainstorms really help because you bring down all the dirt and dust in the atmosphere," said Boyle.

So, taking the time to dust off that telescope or even your binoculars can really pay off right now.

What to watch for right now

"There are brilliant objects in the sky, such as Venus in the western sky, which is seen just after sunset," said Boyle.

"Venus is now showing a nice crescent face and as it gets closer and closer to the horizon, over the next couple of weeks, the disc will get larger [and] the crescent will get smaller and smaller," he said. 

Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are seen in the morning sky before dawn. But by mid-summer, they will be visible around sunset, and will get brighter as the weeks pass, said Boyle.

The Ottawa branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is beginning Zoom talks in order to safely conduct 'star parties' and discussions, according to Boyle.

"Members will be showing the sun," he said. "People on Zoom will see live images of the sun, and of the moon and of Venus."

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