Discover the Universe: Ottawa, Canada

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Thursday, June 02, 2011

International Astronomy Day was May 7, and I’ve just heard back from the Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group about their festivities for the day as part of Astronomy’s Discover the Universe program. Group member Jim Thompson explains:

The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group (OAOG) put on a successful sidewalk astronomy event May 7, the International Astronomy Day, as part of Astronomy magazine's Discover the Universe program. Some 40 members of the group were on hand to help approximately 1,500 people better appreciate their place in the cosmos. // All photos by Jim Thompson
The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group (OAOG) began in 1994 with local amateur astronomers Rock Mallin and Don Fougere, who love sharing their enthusiasm for astronomy with the public. Once a year, the OAOG organizes an all-day sidewalk event to celebrate International Astronomy Day, as well as holds impromptu evening sidewalk events throughout the year as weather permits — but the Astronomy Day event is much bigger and carefully planned. This year’s was Saturday, May 7, and took place in the parking lot next to a Chapters bookstore. This location was close to shopping areas, movie theaters, and restaurants, providing great public exposure and helping make the event so successful.

OAOG group members began showing up around 5 a.m. Saturday morning to set up their telescopes and displays. Eventually, 25 of us were on hand with telescopes at the ready, plus an additional 15 or so members circulated through the growing crowd, answering questions and filling in for telescope owners as required.

By holding their event next to a well-trafficked area, the OAOG helped bring astronomy to a great number of people, most of whom probably didn’t expect to do some observing that day!
The public had a large number and variety of telescopes to choose from: seven refractors, five Hydrogen-alpha solar scopes, 10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, four equatorial-mounted Newtonians, six Dobsonians, and one Ritchey-Chrétien. The OAOG also had many examples of both eyepiece observing and video astronomy via the numerous Mallincams within the group, and passersby could watch static displays, slide shows, and videos. With the material provided by Astronomy magazine, plus older magazines and books donated by group members, visitors certainly didn’t have to leave empty-handed.

The only thing that did not go according to plan was the weather. The morning began clear and sunny, but it quickly clouded over and remained so for most of the day. In between passing clouds, OAOG members still provided inspiring views of the Sun, Moon, and Saturn. The morning and afternoon saw a slow but steady stream of people; from about 5 p.m. onward it was very busy, with lines at most scopes and a heavy barrage of questions from the interested public. By the time we packed up around 11 p.m., approximately 1,500 people had participated in our event. This year was our most successful Astronomy Day yet!

The OAOG provided various kinds of experiences besides simply looking through scopes, including astronomy-related videos and various handouts, helping make the event more memorable.
That sounds like a pretty great day, Jim. Congratulations! Thanks for helping turn on members of the unsuspecting public to this amazing pastime. We were happy to play a small role to help make your group’s plans a success. If you want to know how Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program can help your club, please email me at

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