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Things are looking up at new Sunshine Coast observatory

Astronomical Society

The Sunshine Coast chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (SCRAS) is unveiling its new – and first publicly accessible – observatory on the Coast at a grand opening ceremony on June 27.

“There are billions of things in the sky to look at, and there are only 44 large telescopes in the world,” said president of SCRAS Charles Ennis. “They’re all booked up solid looking for dark matter and stuff. So a considerable amount of science is done by amateur astronomers. We have telescopes large enough – especially with this new equipment – to look at the stuff they don’t have time to look at.”

The 14-inch Cassegrain telescope has a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera attached to it. Not only does this allow SCRAS to photograph the sky, it makes the telescope a light bucket that traps light until you tell it to stop.

“With this camera, it has the light gathering capacity of a 70-inch telescope,” Ennis explained.

The camera takes continuous photographs so that astronomers, like Ennis, can later look at the photos, select the best ones, discard the rest, and then layer them so they create a high quality image of the sky.

“I think it’s very important that if you want people to start taking environmental concerns seriously, they have to be able to see the environment,” Ennis said. “They have to connect with it.”

Light pollution is the biggest concern for astronomers, and SCRAS is talking to Sechelt council about getting registered as a Dark Sky community to protect from light pollution.

“We do a lot of public outreach, because two thirds of the world’s population is born in light-polluted areas, where the light is reflected off dust and moisture in the atmosphere,” Ennis said. “They can’t even see that there’s a Milky Way.”

The observatory – located near the Sechelt airport – features a fully retractable roof so the telescope doesn’t have to be moved outside to see the sky. This is an important part of the building, because the telescope is so delicate that any amount of vibration in the floor will disrupt its intake of light.

The telescope is actually built onto a concrete base contained within the observatory, but not connected to the building. As Ennis put it, you could have a room full of people jumping up and down next to the telescope and still get a clean reading.

The grand opening is just for members of the society and their friends and family, as well as invited dignitaries. SCRAS president Charles Ennis has said that anyone interested in attending or joining the society is welcome to call and confirm that they will be attending.