Celebrate stars and the night sky at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

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Image courtesy of Tourism Jasper

LISA KADANE

JASPER, AB - Ever since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, it can be argued we’ve lost touch with darkness; we usually experience it when sleeping, with our eyes closed. Now in its second year, a new Jasper festival wants to change that by shining light on the natural beauty of the night sky.

Playing on the area’s designation as the world’s largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve  - an area free of artificial light pollution - the event celebrates darkness.

So what’s to get excited about? Just ask anyone who’s ever gone camping in Jasper and looked above on a clear, dark night and they’ll tell you; the stars! The sky in its natural state is unbelievably beautiful and can’t be seen from cities, which flood the sky with light pollution.


Image courtesy of Tourism Jasper/ Photo by Yuichi Takasaka

“Increasingly, light affects the sky,” explains festival co-ordinator Cheryl McGuffin. “We want to introduce people to how things would be without light pollution. It’s reconnecting with nature.”

The Jasper Dark Sky Festival kicks off Friday night with a Starry Night wine and cheese reception at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where wilderness astronomer Peter McMahon will talk about the night sky.

Saturday events will include an introduction to telescope use, presentations about astronomy in popular culture and night astral photography by Yuichi Takasaka, among other talks. At the visitor information centre, a space cadet fair will allow aspiring astronomers to make dream catcher solar systems, paint constellations, as well as decorate and launch pop bottle rockets.

 

You don’t need to be a science geek to enjoy the festival, but McGuffin says having an interest in the heavens helps. The event is also an opportunity to learn more about the natural world - at night - while getting away from it all and unplugging from the bright, fast-paced city life in a remote wilderness location.

“I’ve grown a new appreciation for astronomy,” McGuffin admits. “Now, when I look up in the night sky I recognize constellations like Orion’s Belt.”

Long-time Jasper residents Joe and Sheila Couture attended last year’s inaugural festival with their two grandsons, aged ten and five. Neither grandparent was an avid stargazer but they enjoyed identifying constellations, and the two boys loved all of it.

  
Image courtesy of Tourism Jasper/ Photo by Yuichi Takasaka

“It’s the first time I’ve been to anything like that. I didn’t realize we had so many beautiful stars,” says Joe.

“The kids thought it was wonderful,” adds Sheila. “They were very interested in all they could do.” The boys launched pop bottle rockets and constructed “robots” using bicycle parts and duct tape. They also liked lying down in the school gym-turned-planetarium and looking up at the ‘stars’ projected onto the ceiling.

 

The highlight for the family, however, was visiting the island at Pyramid Lake on Saturday night and looking through telescopes set up at various viewing stations, each pointing at a different planet or constellation with an interpreter on hand to help them decipher the night sky. This year, the popular Pyramid Lake event takes place on October 13 from 8 - 10 pm.

Event organizer Cheryl McGuffin hopes festival-goers come away with an appreciation for darkness and perhaps a favourite Jasper Dark Sky moment. The event is a departure for those accustomed to experiencing the beautiful national park during daylight hours, but definitely worthwhile. The Coutures agree, and plan to take in the Jasper Dark Sky Festival with their grandsons again this year.

“I think it’s neat because there is a lot of dark sky here,” says Joe. “It’s getting people to look at something that is far different from the ordinary.”

Read more articles about the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

For more information on the Jasper Dark Sky Festival visit Tourism Jasper’s website