Discover the Universe: Ottawa, Canada, 2012

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

As I’m sure we all remember, International Astronomy Day this year was April 28, and I’ve been hearing from lots of clubs about how they spent this special day as part of Astronomy’s Discover the Universe program. I especially enjoyed hearing from Jim Thompson of the Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group about its event, the group’s second with the program.

The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group (OAOG) had their annual Astronomy Day star party on April 28, taking advantage of a heavily trafficked area to allow the public to check out the skies. Crowds were steady all day but really picked up after dark, and with more than 40 telescopes on display, the public rarely had to wait in line. // All images by Josef Pittner (
The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group (OAOG) held its annual Astronomy Day event on Saturday, April 28. As in past years, the daylong star party took place at OAOG’s usual sidewalk astronomy site, the parking lot next to a Chapters bookstore. Members like this location because the nearby shopping centers, movie theaters, and restaurants give us lots of public exposure.

Despite the cold temperatures and wind in the morning, our group’s members began showing up around 5 a.m. to start setting up their telescopes and displays. By 11 a.m., when the event officially kicked off, 25 scopes and 20 warmly dressed members stood ready to receive the public. As the day progressed, the clear skies brought even more attendees and members with equipment, and by nightfall more than 40 scopes were on display with at least 40 OAOG members present.

We had record numbers participate in the day’s events — we think about 3,000 people passed through by the time we started packing up at 11 p.m. People of all ages and backgrounds came out; some even had binoculars and star charts with them, ready to observe the skies with us. Our event was also broadcast live on, allowing people from all over the world to participate. Attendees had a wide assortment of telescopes to observe through, and a broad range of member experience to learn from. We also had plenty of free handouts, including material graciously provided by Astronomy magazine, the local Ottawa Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Chapter, and individual OAOG members. We even ordered bulk solar eclipse glasses to hand out free of charge, in preparation for the June Venus transit.

Group members began setting up as early as 5 a.m., providing great views of the Sun through Hydrogen-alpha solar scopes and a variety of properly filtered reflectors and refractors.
The best part had to be the telescope views we provided the public. We had a full day of clear sky, allowing us to target the Sun through a dozen or more solar scopes. By midday, a number of instruments switched to the Moon, and then later Venus, Mars, and Saturn as the Sun went down. We even lucked into observing a flyover of the International Space Station! For me the most spectacular views of the day were the Sun through a 6-inch refractor with binocular viewer and 0.3-angstrom Hydrogen-alpha filter, the Moon through a 10-inch Ritchey-Chrétien and Mallincam Signature video camera displayed in 1080p on a 42-inch TV, and Saturn through a 20-inch Dobsonian. Fantastic!

Fantastic indeed — congratulations to the OAOG for another successful Astronomy Day! As usual, we’re just happy we could play a role in helping you share the beauty and joy of astronomy with the public. If you want to know how Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program can help your club, please email me at

By early afternoon, the Moon was visible, providing group members more opportunities to amaze both young and old, including the author’s daughter.

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