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Moose Jaw, SK

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Under A Blanket Of Stars -

Saskatchewan’s First Observatory


“We are blessed to live under a blanket of stars,” a First Nations elder mused. Looking up, first peoples sought the divine. The North Star Polaris was known to the Plains Cree as the Standing Still Star. The Milky Way was called the Summer Birds’ Path. Thirteen moons marked the passing of one year, with 13 cycles of 28 days each, from one new moon to the next.

Newcomers to Saskatchewan were also drawn by the night sky. Inspired by the impending return of Halley’s Comet in 1910, a group of Regina amateur astronomers formed the Saskatchewan Astronomical Society. In 1913, an observatory, the first of its kind in Western Canada, was built on the roof of Regina Collegiate, later called Central Collegiate. It was Regina’s first high school, and operated from 1908 to 1985.

The observatory excluded light from outside sources and provided a wind-free environment. The domed roof was light, easy to turn and its height accommodated a long telescope. The building was unheated because air turbulence affected the image. Red lights were used inside because red light does not affect the human eye’s adaptation to the dark.

The Society was active for a numbers of years until the First World War when membership declined. Maintenance of the observatory was neglected, and in 1938 it was removed from the Collegiate’s roof and sold. After the Second World War, the Society revived again, eventually as the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Regina Centre. The Society regained ownership of the observatory in 1983 and in 1989 it was moved to the Moose Jaw Western Development Museum.

Today there are six observatories in Saskatchewan: Davin Observatory at east of Regina; Kalium Observatory at the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina; Sleaford Observatory east of Saskatoon near Meacham; University of Regina Observatory in Regina; University of Saskatchewan Observatory in Saskatoon; Wilkinson Memorial Observatory near Eastend. In 2012, a seventh observatory is scheduled to open in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

Is stargazing for you? On a summer evening, spread out a blanket in the backyard, lie down and look skyward. On a cold winter’s night, bundle up and let the darkness embrace you. Search the night sky for planets and constellations, meteor showers or the moon, northern lights and falling stars. Search for your connection to the vast universe.

Dark Sky preserves and reserves are places around the world where people can enjoy the night sky devoid of the effects of light pollution. In Canada, Dark Sky preserves are often found in national and provincial parks, located far from urban light pollution. In Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park and Grasslands National Park are both Dark Sky preserves. When it was created in 2009, the Grasslands Preserve became the largest in the world. You can join stargazers at the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party held each August in the Cypress Hills Park.

Wrapped in a ribbon of Milky Way stars, the night sky begs to be admired. Humankind has long searched the night sky for guideposts to navigate waterways, to survey the landscape, to mark the passage of time, and to study the physical nature of the celestial bodies they have observed. Astronomy, the study of the universe, is age-old.