Dancing with the stars

Participants in a Yukon Astronomical Society outreach event in 2016 observe the sun with a specially filtered telescope. PHOTO: Vikki Zsohar (courtesy of YAS)

After testing the waters in 2017 with the first-ever Yukon Star Party, the Yukon branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) is bringing back the event, with promises of education, fun and most of all, community engagement.

Last year’s Yukon Star Party ran over the course of a week, which meant many people were unable to make it to all the events. This year, to ensure all those who wish to attend are able to, the 2018 edition of the Yukon Star Party will take place on only one weekend, from Friday, August 24 to Saturday, August 25. Additionally, the Star Party being in the summer this time around will mean warmer weather for a better turnout. Last year’s events during October put some people off attending due to the cold weather and the fact that so much of the time is spent outside.

The two days contain a packed program that includes astronomy presentations, a workshop in telescope use, live music, a silent auction, barbecues, and programming for kids.
“We want to engage with the community as much as possible,” said Vikki Zsohar, president of the Yukon Astronomical Society (YAS). “That was how we focused this year.”

With emphasis on this, the programming of the 2nd Annual Yukon Star Party has been specially made up to offer opportunities for attendees to participate and really be part of everything that’s happening. Each event is very community-based, and the public is encouraged to partake in everything from the stargazing to the telescope workshop.

The first day of the Yukon Star Party will begin at 5 p.m. with the start of the silent auction. The auction will feature astronomy-related works of art by artist Heather Von Steinhagen. At 6 p.m. there will be an opening ceremony for Whitehorse’s new observatory, which was made possible with help from the Yukon Government’s Community Development funds.

Zsohar said the opening of the observatory is one of the most important events of the weekend, and it is hoped that before winter starts, it will be in use by the public. From 7:30 p.m. until midnight on the Friday, people who attend will be able to use the observatory’s telescope to observe stars, planets and galaxies.

A packed Saturday will begin at 10 a.m. with some kids programming, including events like a kids’ astro lab, face painting, a solar system run and some observation of the sun with a telescope. At noon, another barbecue will start, this one with live music to watch and listen to.

The first presentation of the day will be happening at 4 p.m. and will be a presentation on light pollution by YAS’ Forest Pearson. According to Zsohar, light pollution is an important topic needing to be looked into right now.
“As population in Whitehorse increases, we are kind of losing the night sky,” she said. “We want to show our children and grandchildren that there is a still a night sky, and if we don’t take steps now to stop [light] pollution we might lose it forever.”

After this presentation, the feature presentation of the weekend will take place. University of British Columbia planetary scientist Dr. Christa Van Laerhoven will be delivering her presentation, titled: “‘Oumuamua, the First Known Interstellar Asteroid.” ‘Oumuamua is the first-ever discovered asteroid that came from another galaxy but can be seen from Earth.

“There is some novelty in ‘Oumuamua being the first-known interstellar object,” said Van Laerhoven. “There must have been others previously, but we are now at the point where our telescopes are observing large swaths of the sky, doing it often, and going faint enough to actually witness the passage of things like ‘Oumuamua.”

Van Laerhoven will have enough exciting information on the topic of ‘Oumuamua to satisfy science buffs, but reveals that, unfortunately, no aliens are involved. After her presentation will be the Telescoping 101 workshop, for which people are invited and encouraged to bring their own telescopes to learn how to fully work them.

More observation through the observatory’s telescope will be going on from 8 p.m. until midnight, and the silent auction will end at 9 p.m. Anyone interested in astronomy or looking for an opportunity to learn something new are welcome at all events of the 2nd annual Yukon Star Party.

Tickets are available on yukontickets.com, and for more information, you can visit yukonastronomy.com.

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