Stars Align for Community Star-Gazers

June 27, 2014

BRANDON, MB – A unique community astronomy program at Brandon University (BU) is giving the public a rare, free opportunity to view amazing objects in the night sky through the largest telescope between Kenora and Calgary.

In the past three years, more than 4000 people have visited the BU Observatory, not only during warm July nights but also February chills, to peer through the eyepiece of the 16-inch reflecting telescope which can bring the rings of Saturn into clear view.

“We offer the public a unique opportunity,” says Dr. Tyler Foster, Department of Astronomy. “At most universities, the public is not invited to viewings or allowed to use the telescope. At BU, the observatory is an active part of a science student’s education but we regularly throw open the doors to the public. It’s unlike most other university campuses in Canada.”

Dr. Foster has used a federal government grant earmarked for outreach and promotion of science to youth to build BU’s community astronomy program. “In 2006, we had a 10-inch telescope which was not used for much public outreach, and only a few regular-scheduled public events,” he recalls, “a gem in the raw, waiting to be properly utilized.” In 2014, more than 50 viewing nights are planned, including several dusk-to-dawn sessions.G_M51_supernova_2011

For the past five years, Xisra Winder has been hired to oversee the public programming through funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Winder is a BU student majoring in psychology, “who fell in love with astronomy while taking a science course in my first year,” she says.

The crowd that gathers at the BU Observatory on viewing nights is a mix of community members, youth organizations, academics – anyone with a curiosity for the night sky. “Everyone, regardless of age, language, or education is part of a unique experience,” says Dr. Foster.” Seeing the Moon or Saturn for the first time through a telescope is an unforgettable moment, whether you are five or 85.”

For more information about the Brandon University Astronomical Observatory, please visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/BU-Astronomical-Observatory/225611934117350

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Tyler Foster
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Astronomy
204-727-7457
fostert@brandonu.ca

Glen Kirby
Communications Officer
204-727-9762
kirbyg@brandonu.ca