I’ve always loved looking up at the stars and watching the night sky for meteors, and I can recite the names, in order, of the planets from memory, but that’s about the limit of my astronomy skills.
When Cypress Hills Destination Area invited me to attend the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party that is held at the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, I was excited, but knew I had a lot to learn.
I was a little nervous walking up alone to the Meadows Campground where I saw huge telescopes everywhere. By huge, I mean bigger than me! These people meant business.
The campground is turned into a complete dark sky preserve during the event. No white lights are allowed and all windows are completely covered. They put a red filter over every speck of light that might show. As I walked, in the complete darkness, to the Meadows Campground, I didn’t know what to expect. I wandered towards the glowing red light of the registration tent, and before I knew it, I was following dark silhouettes towards a group of telescopes. There was no need to be nervous. My kind new friends, with faces I couldn’t see, were more than willing to share their knowledge and passion of astronomy with me.
I soon learned that astronomers have lists that they try to complete or check off. Letters and numbers were punched into the telescope’s digital key pad and I was continually amazed by the sights I was seeing through the lenses. M13, sometimes called the Great Globular Cluster, is made of hundreds of thousands of stars in the constellation of Hercules, and M57 is a Ring Nebula that was once a sun like star. M stands for Messier, the astronomer who discovered the items on that particular list.
It was only night one of the Summer Star Party, and I had seen galaxies, nebulas, and even Saturn with her rings!
During the day, they had solar telescopes set up for the public to look through. The sun was in a solar minimum, which means there weren’t many spots or prominences. ( Not to be confused with flares)
Throughout the weekend, there were many speakers presenting. I was a little worried that the lectures would be over my head, but I really enjoyed them. The first speaker talked of inspiring the younger Mars generation and shared how he has gone into schools and done full day Mars Exploration Simulations with grade six classes. As a teacher, I was captivated by all of the hands on learning opportunities that he has given these students.
One speaker talked about his time meteorite hunting. What a thrilling adventure they had, right here in Saskatchewan. Others, shared tales of travelling the world chasing astronomical events such as eclipses. Obviously, those speakers had no problem keeping my attention!
Another speaker shared his part in designing an MRI for future space use. He said that Canada plans to be a major contributor to health technology in the future of space travel.
Each night, we ventured back out in the dark to observe the sky. Clouds interfered with some viewing, but not with the conversation. There’s something special about standing out in the pitch dark talking to people you don’t know. I stayed out until midnight each night, and each day attendees would compare notes about how long they held out for and what sights they captured in the wee hours of the morning.
The Summer Star Party is a great event for the whole family. I met people who were there because their kids were interested. Husbands came for wives, and vice versa. Some families were outfitted with several telescopes because they were all so interested that they didn’t like sharing anymore. There were kid’s activities, binocular sky walks, and the Cypress Hills Observatory was open. For the family members that haven’t quite gotten the astronomy bug, Cypress Hills offers many options for fun and exploring.
I was asked to see what I could learn at this event, and although I left with a lot more knowledge of space and astronomy, I think the biggest thing I came away with is that it’s never too late to start a new hobby, and that taking in annual events like this creates lasting memories and friendships. People are kind and willing to help you learn. You just have to show up and be willing to put yourself out there.
Here’s a short video of my time at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party.
P.S. My Christmas list now includes a digital telescope!