New observatory opens in dark sky preserve near Edmonton

Whether it’s watching for aurora, shooting stars, or the planets, Edmonton-area star gazers have a new tool to get a closer look at the night sky.

The Hesje Observatory is located in the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, a 300-square-kilometre area near Miquelon Lake, southeast of Edmonton.

The observatory opened Tuesday, making the University of Alberta the first university in western Canada to have such a facility in a dark sky preserve.

The telescope will help open up a whole new universe for people, says Glynnis Hood, manager of the research station and an environmental sciences professor at Augustana Campus.

“They can see these wonderful events,” Hood said Tuesday on Edmonton AM. “We just had a conjunction [when planets appear to be closer together] that happened a couple of weeks ago; those sorts of major events can really draw people to the observatory and share that with the public.”

Edmonton AM6:31The Hesje Observatory offers a new view of the night sky

Glynnis Hood, manager of the research station tells Edmonton AM more about the new observatory in a dark sky reserve, southeast of Edmonton. 6:31

A dome at the top of the tower allows for a clear view of the heaven above the trees. The dome includes an observation deck where people can stand and look up and even bring their own telescopes. 

“We have a wonderful tower and a telescope that’s set inside the tower and then a portable telescope as well,” Hood said.

The observatory is the result of a donation of $500,000 from University of Alberta alumnus and retired businessman Brian Hesje.

Construction began in 2019. 

The facility is open to students and researchers but will not be open to the public until the pandemic is under control, Hood said.

“We want to have several public events and activities around that as well,” she said. 

Hood hopes the observatory will not only shed a light on the dark sky, but also bring awareness to the significance of dark skies. 

“Light pollution is a tremendous issue globally,” she said. 

“It really has significant effects on animals and plants and humans. Of course, being an animal, it affects us as well. So there are lots of behavioural aspects such as reproduction and foraging, sleep and migration that can be affected by light pollution.”

Light pollution can reduce immune responses and affect levels of hormones such as cortisol and melatonin, Hood said.

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