Day 6

Tim Doucette is legally blind. But he can see stars better than you do

Timothy Doucette is an amateur astronomer. He’s also legally blind. Turns out a childhood operation that widened his pupils made him a perfect candidate for stargazing — because even with 10 percent of a sited person's eyesight, Tim sees better in the dark than most. Now a published astro-photographer, Tim joins Brent for a conversation about his condition, and his passion for the stars.
Tim Doucette in his observatory in Quinan, Nova Scotia. Tim runs a star-gazing side-business called Deep Sky Eye Observatory. (Tim Doucette)

Quinan Nova Scotia's Tim Doucette is an amateur astronomer. He's also legally blind.

Doucette has had impaired vision ever since he was born. A childhood diagnosis of congenital cataracts forced doctors to remove his lenses and widen his pupils.

Though he didn't know it for decades, that operation also made him a perfect candidate for stargazing because, even with 10 per cent of his eyesight, Tim sees better in the dark than most. In fact, an operation he had in his teens actually left him with super night vision.


On one of his first nights out with a local astronomy club, he routine peek into an average powered telescope put his situation in perspective.

"I just described what I saw. We were looking at the ring nebula. I said I see a ring, a donut and two stars in the middle and some fuzzy stuff around it. He said I shouldn't be able to see the star in the middle with that size of telescope," Doucette recounts.


BLIND, EXCEPT FOR HIS SUPER NIGHT VISION


But he could and as the night drew on and as they kept talking and testing, they realized that, despite his blindness, Doucette's acuity for nighttime viewing as quite substantial.

Doucette's retina is extra sensitive to light so he's able to see faint, deep sky objects. And without any lenses, his eyes filter light differently.  That's especially helpful because Doucette is an astronomer, a published astro photographer and the owner of a Nova Scotia-based astro-tourism business called Deep Sky Eye Observatory.

Samples of astrophotographs by Nova Scotia astronomer Tim Doucette (All photos by Tim Doucette)


Doucette is a computer programer by day and an astro tour guide by night. He says he spends time in his private observatory every night that he can, meaning every night that the sky allow for good viewing, which is more than you'd think given where he lives.

The area surrounding Doucette's home has a very special designation. The dark skies in the remote area of south-west Nova Scotia are North America's first certified UNESCO-Starlight Tourist Destination. Translation: it's a near-perfect area for stargazing.


SHARING THE NIGHT SKY


Doucette even weighed in on what kind of lights nearby towns should use to light their streets, houses and buildings. They're doing all they can to preserve the clear, dark skies and Doucette is doing all he can to help others share his passion by opening his observatory to neighbours, friends, school and social groups.

"I've shared the night sky with all ages and even people with visual impairments. I've helped them see the moon for the first time in their lives".

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