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Alberta’s dark skies beckon

Jasper Dark Sky Festival

Alberta’s dark skies beckon

This post originally appeared on the Travel Alberta websiteExternal Link Title.


In my mind's eye, I can see the hungry people and hear the howl of the winter wind. Suddenly, a pack of wolves appears. I watch as they teach the tribe how to work together, how to hunt, and what to eat. Come spring, the tribe will be strong and the wolves will be gone, but I will still see them working in harmony - high overhead in the night sky, along the Wolf Trail.


I am deeply moved by the Indigenous legend of the Milky Way. Gazing upward, it seems like the centre of our galaxy is rising straight up from the Athabasca Glacier. In the heart of the world's second largest dark sky preserve - Jasper National ParkExternal Link Title - I pull my coat a little closer and resume my stargazing. Look! There's the Hunter and there's the Seven Sisters.


Leave the city lights behind

Under the ambient glow of city light, it's impossible to see more than a handful of stars. Not so in a dark sky preserve, free from artificial light, where star systems wheel freely across the night sky and modern civilization seems but a dream.


Now it's late August in Cypress Hills Interprovincial ParkExternal Link Title in southeast Alberta, and the Summer Star Party is in full swing. We wander off to lie on our backs in the meadow, looking for familiar constellations, just like we did as kids. This place has the highest elevation in the country east of the Canadian Rockies and the night skies are spectacular.

At summer's end, we'll meet up with the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of CanadaExternal Link Title (RASC) in the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, about 40 minutes east of the city, to peer through telescopes at galaxies millions of light years away. Soon Waterton-Glacier International Peace ParkExternal Link Title, which spans the Canadian-US border, will have received its RASC dark sky designation and we can take a trip down there. Wood Buffalo National ParkExternal Link Title, in northern Alberta, has its designation now, eclipsing Jasper as the world's largest. That's on the bucket list, too.


The sky's the limit

You can also join the Calgary Centre of the RASC for monthly meetings and star parties. Their big one is held annually in early September near Drumheller in the Canadian Badlands. And there are lots of open houses throughout the year at University of Calgary's Rothney Observatory, located about 40 minutes north of the city. The kids are already in love with the planetarium/digital dome at Telus SparkExternal Link Title, Calgary's science centre.


When we head up to Edmonton, we'll visit the University of Alberta's campus observatory and the Telus World of ScienceExternal Link Title. And if we time it just right, we can take in the free public talk at the monthly meeting of the Edmonton Centre RASC.