Space, science and sci-fi is one of the strongest current trends in popular media, from the rebooted version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and the new Star Trek movies to galaxy-print everything, and the I F***ing Love Science Facebook page.
While it’s fantastic to see the general public become more interested in the world of science and technology, lifelong enthusiasts like astronomer Anthony Gucciardo emphatically believe we still have a long way to go, and that, here in the Yukon, we have access to a serious advantage.
Gucciardo and his astronomically-inclined wife, Catheryne Lord, moved from Montreal to Whitehorse in 2014; they met fellow enthusiast Viktor Zsohar, and the three formed the Yukon Astronomical Society (YAS), now called RASC – Yukon Centre (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada). As Gucciardo describes their collective vision: “A vision where the Yukon capitalizes on one of its many natural wonders – its dark skies – coupled with the initial net benefits from astronomical destination tourism… I like to say to people, ‘Instead of just mining down, the Yukon could also be mining up!’”
Gucciardo sees the Yukon as an untapped goldmine of potential for the astronomy community, citing astronomical destination tourism as a growing industry that will bring many visitors here.
He says the territory has ideal viewing conditions, from our long winter nights to the sunny summer days, along with a unique geographical location, and excellent quality of the skies. He suggests that this potential can be increased with the creation of infrastructure, such as planetariums, observatories, and International Dark-Sky Association-certified dark-sky parks. These are places that are good for viewing the night sky because there is no light pollution, and there is an expansive view of the sky.
One observatory is well underway in Whitehorse, at the Takhini Hot Springs, where the YAS hopes to have a completed and functional facility by late November. If all testing and fine-tuning goes ahead, Gucciardo anticipates the facility will be open to the public by spring 2017.
Along with this, YAS wants to add astronomy to the Yukon Government’s department of education curriculum.
The society is presently involved with several initiatives to see astronomy education furthered in the Yukon, both in the education and public sectors; another facet of the of their work is a proposal to add additional astronomy-related material to Yukon school curriculums.
Astronomy teaches valuable life and work skills such as teamwork, leadership, innovation, resourcefulness and citizenship, says Gucciardo. “Astronomy added to the curriculum will encourage students to become active, responsible members of their communities,” says Gucciardo. “They will make valuable contributions to Canadian society, in terms of environmental, citizenship and community activities.
“Astronomy and its related fields are at the forefront of science and technology; answering fundamental questions and driving innovation. Astronomy is interactive, fun, and dynamic. It gives students the chance to discover the universe, through their own eyes.”
Students won’t be the only ones with access to an astronomy education, either. The Royal Canadian Astronomical Society will be offering both an educators’ workshop and public lecture from the Westar Lectureship series on Monday, Nov. 14, presented by professional astronomer Dr. Christa Van Laerhoven from the University of Toronto.
“The intent of this program is to bring professional astronomers to communities that would otherwise not have easy access to us,” says Van Laerhoven. “This is the first year that the Westar Lectureship has included an astronomy workshop for educators. Our ultimate goal is to bring astronomy to as many people as possible, and we feel that working with educators is a great way to do that.”
She explains that the intended audience of the workshop will be educators from both formal and informal organizations, so long as there is some form of astronomy in the curriculum. For the lecture, which is intended for any interested members of the public, Van Laerhoven will be discussing planets.
“Recent surveys looking for exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than our sun) have found a large number of planetary systems where the planets are placed much closer together than the planets in our solar system are,” she says. “I will talk about what factors go into making a planetary system stable or unstable, explore the limit of how close you can pack planets and discuss the fate of our solar system. This lecture will not require attendees to have any prior astronomy knowledge.”
“Astronomy has, and continues to revolutionize our thinking on a worldwide scale,” says Gucciardo. “In the past, astronomy has been used to measure time, mark the seasons and navigate the vast oceans. As one of the oldest sciences, astronomy is part of every culture’s history and roots. It inspires us with beautiful images and promises answers to the big questions. It acts as a window into the immense size and complexity of space, putting Earth into perspective and promoting global citizenship and pride in our home planet.”
The educators’ workshop and public lecture will be held at the Yukon College Whitehorse Campus. The workshop takes place 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and the lecture takes place 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a night sky observation both before and after the talk.
These projects are just a few of the Yukon Astronomical Society’s many ongoing works; more information is available on their website at YukonAstronomicalSociety.com.