U of S observatory celebrates 90 years examining night sky

The observatory at the University of Saskatchewan is celebrating its 90th anniversary.

Special event Sunday to view lunar eclipse

The University of Saskatchewan Observatory was completed in 1929. (University of Saskatchewan Archives)

A small stone building has sat near the entrance to the University of Saskatchewan's entrance off College Drive for the past 90 years.

The university's Observatory was one of the first buildings erected on campus.

"The Observatory has been open to the public pretty much weekly for that entire time," said Daryl Janzen, a lecturer in Physics at the university.

Despite its age, the Observatory is still a perfect way for the public to take a look at the night sky. The telescope's objective lens, which gathers light and focuses it, was replaced after being broken in the 1980s. Other than that, the facility remains unchanged.

"The Observatory telescope is really wonderful for viewing the moon, for viewing the planets," he said. "Saturn is spectacular through the telescope."

In the 1940s, an Astronomy student was selected to live in the building for free, as someone needed to manage the facility and throw coal into the building's furnace every few hours.

"It was a good deal for Physics and for students," he said.

A woman looks through the telescope at the University Observatory in this archival photo. (University of Saskatchewan Archives)

The upper section of the observatory isn't heated, which can make stargazing a little frosty in the winter.

"If we kept it warm in here, then the warm air would rise through the dome when we open it up," said Janzen. "That would make all of the images we look at blurry."

Super Blood Wolf Moon

The observatory will be hosting a special event to watch the lunar eclipse on Sunday, starting at 9:30 p.m. CST.

"Eventually, after about an hour, the moon will pass all the way into Earth's shadow, so that it's not seeing any direct sunlight," he said. "Sunlight gets refracted by Earth's atmosphere, and red light in particular gets bent towards the moon...So, the moon, during the total eclipse, turns red."

This picture, taken in 1934, shows the University Observatory was one of the first buildings completed on campus. (University of Saskatchewan Archives)

Physics students use more powerful telescopes, not open to the public, mounted on the roof of the Physics Building nearby.

The University is also partnering with Skynet, an international telescope network that works together to take enormous pictures of the space. A robotic telescope should be installed at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Sleaford Site outside of the city this spring.

"We can schedule observations we want it to do," he said. "It'll observe and collect data for us."

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