I am a sucker for surprises, so when my good friend Emily told me that she was taking me for a surprise outing on May 10th, I was over the moon. I mulled over the possibilities – A new restaurant? An impromptu concert? Fireworks? – these were just a few of the things that crossed my mind. All Emily said was to dress warm.
Sharon and I met Emily and her mom at Finch Station, where we were picked up in the family car. As we drove North, I tried to guess where we were headed. Eventually we turned down a rural looking side road lined with old trees, until we came across a parking lot. The lady directing traffic asked us to roll down the window and asked, ” Are you going to the observatory?” And thus the big secret was revealed. May 10th was astronomy day, and the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill was hosting an open house.
We had to park a fair distance away from the observatory to help reduce light pollution, and were guided by little solar foot lights up a winding dirt road. As we rounded the last corner the observatory came into view – a beautiful stone building with a dome roof. Peppered across the lawn, clusters of people were huddled around various telescopes, and behind them, the “Papascope” (at least thats what I have named it) in its very own open roofed building.
The David Dunlap Observatory boasts Canada’s largest telescope. One of the very kind and informative guides explained that this is because Canada is a less than ideal location for star gazing. Our summers are humid, winters are snowy, and there are few clear nights. Any fancy new telescopes are found further south where there is limited precipitation. While we could climb up the narrow staircase to see the telescope, it was not operating on this day so we could not look through it. We were told if we wanted to look through the largest telescope in Canada, we would have to come back on another night. While the open house was free, tickets must be bought for the Pappascope.
We were however able to look into the smaller telescopes that had been set up on the lawn outdoors. When I say smaller – I mean smaller than the largest telescope in Canada, I would not classify these telescopes as small. They were powerful, and we were very lucky to have such a clear sky. We saw Jupiter and 4 of its 63 moons, Mars, and even got to see the rings of Saturn, which as it happens was the closest it has been to earth in over 70 years!
While the planets were neat, the real star of the show was the moon. I have always enjoyed watching the moon glowing above us, but when I looked through the telescope and could clearly see it’s mountains and craters, I developed a whole new appreciation for it. It was stunning. The man who owned the telescope I was looking thorough even let me take a photo by placing my phone’s camera lens directly on the eye piece. Here is the result:
I am determined to visit the observatory again this summer so that I can see the moon magnified even more! Before driving back to the big smoke, we hit up Tim Horton’s to warm up with a hot chocolate and Tim Bits. We all agreed that we felt like kids again on a family outing. Thanks Emily for planning such a lovely evening!