Quirks & Quarks·Analysis

Join astronomers under the stars to appreciate the magnificence of our universe

Bob McDonald's blog: May 7 is the unofficial holiday Astronomy Day, and stargazers around the world will be marking the day with public events.

Bob McDonald's blog: Astronomy Day 2022 is a great time to take advantage of warmer weather and see the stars

A person looks through a telescope under a dark sky.
A girl watches the sky with her telescope in Fortaleza, Brazil, on Sep. 21, 2021. (Jarbas Oliveira/AFP/Getty Images)

This Saturday, astronomers around the world will be getting their telescopes out and inviting the public to come join them for a celebration of the stars on Astronomy Day. It's not an official holiday or anything. Astronomy Day was started in 1973 by Doug Berger, then head of the Astronomical Association of Northern California, as a project to bring telescopes to urban areas and help the public appreciate the universe. 

Since then, Astronomy Day has become a bit more of an international event . Museums, science centres and planetariums take the opportunity to host events outside, inside and online, with activities for all ages. 

In Canada, Astronomy Day 2022 is a subdued event, possibly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But events are still being held by some local chapters of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

They'll be holding star parties where amateur astronomers will bring their telescopes to dark viewing sites, like parks or parking lots, and invite the public to take a look through their instruments and see the wonders of stars, galaxies and planets for themselves. Check their website to find a chapter near you and their list of star parties.

The Milky Way is pictured in the night sky above the Negev desert is Israel on Aug. 12, 2021. (Menahem/AFP/Getty Images)

If the weather does not cooperate and skies are cloudy, there are still indoor events you can attend in person or online. Toronto Centre is streaming a virtual star party called "Shooting for the Moon" featuring a talk by Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

In Victoria, the Friends of the Dominion Observatory will host an event with space historian Chris Gainor on the remarkable achievements of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Nature is also putting on a special show this weekend, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. If you have clear skies, find a dark place after midnight and you should see occasional meteors streaming overhead, which are particles left behind by the famous Halley's Comet, which last flew past Earth in 1986 and won't be seen again until 2061.

The Soviet space probe Vega took this image of Halley's Comet in 1986 when it last flew by Earth. (Liaison/Getty Images)

Should you miss any of these events, no worries — star parties will now be happening across the country throughout the summer. If parties are not your cup of tea, try to take some time when you do have a clear dark night to stop and look up for a while. Dark skies are becoming a rare sight as the light from our ever expanding cities covers the stars in an artificial glow.

Take a good look at the unimaginably vast universe filled with countless trillions of other stars, planets, galaxies, exotic quasars, pulsars and black holes. This is our home. As you look up, think about how far the blackness goes and the fact that you are travelling through that cosmos on the only oasis of life we know of, our little spaceship Earth. If it makes you feel small, you are. But at least we have the brains and vast imagination to contemplate it. As famous astronomer Carl Sagan said, "We are a way for the universe to know itself." 

Clear skies!