Faculty of Science
SFU Starry Nights expands the out-of-this-world experience virtually
Back by popular demand—and following a summer of notable celestial activity, including a third supermoon—SFU’s weekly star party is moving online once a month to give anyone interested in astronomy the chance to seek stellar sights through the Trottier Observatory’s telescope—from the comfort of home.
Starting at the end of this month (Sep. 29), SFU’s Faculty of Science will livestream Starry Nights directly from the SFU Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard, contingent on weather conditions, and will continue the virtual sky show on the last Friday of each month, presenting viewers with an astronomer’s-eye view through the state-of-the-art telescope.
Led by SFU Science Outreach and volunteers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Vancouver (RASC Vancouver), Starry Nights is a free event that takes place every clear-skied Friday night, for community members to discover the many celestial objects visible to the human eye or through small telescopes, including the moon, distant stars, constellations, and planets in the solar and elsewhere in the cosmos, without the need for their own equipment or any previous knowledge of astronomy.
This year in-person sessions show rising interest with an average of more than 250 people present at each event.
Program facilitators first shifted the delivery online during early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to host sessions virtually for several months before returning in-person. But because of lasting interest from out-of-province participants and the flexibility offered to viewers by virtual sessions they revisited the idea.
“Having the event virtually is often easier for people with busy schedules or for those who don’t live in B.C.”, says Joanna Woo, a lecturer in SFU’s Department of Physics and a Starry Nights event facilitator. “Hosting Starry Nights via livestream lets us expand the audience and provide what is equivalent of front-row access to all our viewers using cameras that see much more than the human eye.
“It adds to the fun because no one has to wait in line, everyone gets to look through the telescope at the same time,” Woo says. The online sessions also feature a Q&A chat discussion where viewers can input their questions and receive real-time responses from program volunteers.
With both in-person and online sessions garnering significant interest, the program aims to continue with both delivery methods going forward.
While the SFU Science Outreach team currently offers walking tours of the Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard to student groups ranging from Grade 4 to college students, Cynthia Henson, manager of SFU Science’s Outreach and Engagement, says her team has also received group tour requests from international agencies and tourist groups, highlighting Starry Nights’ significance as a local point of interest.
“The charm of Starry Nights is that it welcomes everyone,” says Henson. “During our in-person sessions especially, it feels like a family-festival type of atmosphere with the unique activities and games we have going on. It’s rare to have an event that welcomes both amateur and professional astronomers .”
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Starry Nights events are contingent on weather conditions and may be cancelled if sky visibility is poor. Participants are encouraged to check the SFU Trottier Observatory’s Twitter page for announcements each week to see if the weather permits an event.