Discover the Universe in Ottawa

Posted by Sarah Scoles
on Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In April, Canada's Ottawa Valley Astronomy and Observer’s Group (OAOG) participated in the Astronomical League-sponsored Astronomy Day. On a specified day (April 20 this year), astronomical societies, planetariums, museums, and observatories host events all over the world so that people across all latitudes and longitudes can experience the coolness what’s above our heads. This year, the OAOG also made its event part of Astronomy magazine’s Discover the Universe program to bring sidewalk astronomy to everyone. Jim Thompson, an OAOG member, reports on their trials, tribulations, and ultimate victory:

The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer's Group held an impromptu sidewalk astronomy event this April and shared telescopic views and information with several hundred people who may or may not have been on the way to the movies. // Randy Armitage
The Ottawa Valley Astronomy & Observer’s Group (OAOG) planned to hold its annual Astronomy Day event Saturday, April 20. Unfortunately, this year Mother Nature decided it wasn’t going to happen. The weather forecast leading up to the event teetered between “scattered showers” and “partly cloudy,” and we didn’t give the night a “GO” until the last minute Friday evening. We awoke Saturday morning to a mixture of thunder, hail, rain, snow, sleet, cold temperatures, and high winds. No brimstone, luckily. Some of the more optimistic members of our group set up their telescopes, but after the second bout of hail and high winds, the event was officially canceled for the first time in 13 years.

Our group members were all very disappointed. Many had been preparing for months for this day, including my son and me. As a small concession, Mother Nature provided a clear, calm Sunday that we were able to take advantage of. Because all of the official preparations were made for an all-day event specifically on Saturday, the Sunday event was limited to an impromptu sidewalk astronomy session. We had approximately 10 to 12 group members out with their telescopes, providing splendid views of the Sun, the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn. In fact, the seeing conditions were some of the best we’ve had in the Ottawa area for months — oh, the irony! The International Space Station also made a well-timed appearance. Being it was a Sunday night, we entertained only a couple hundred passersby, but nonetheless a good time was had by all.

Our fingers are crossed for better weather next year. Some group members are even discussing having our Astronomy Day on a different date than that set by the Astronomical League, later in May, to better suit our northern climate. I guess we shall see.

I’m sure the Astronomical League approves of events any day of the year, and multiple hundreds of passersby is a great turnout. Thanks for holding a fantastic event even in the face of meteorological pushback. If your astronomy club is interested having a sidewalk astronomy event that gives someone their first-ever view through a telescope, and you’d like to take part in Discover the Universe, send me an email! I’m Associate Editor Sarah Scoles, and my email address is I’ll be happy to discuss the program more with you and send you an application

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