Story Ideas

Reach for the stars at Canada’s Dark-Sky Preserves.

The Popular Astronomy Festival at Quebec’s Parc national du Mont-Mégantic is just one of the hot night spots this year for stargazers.

16 July 2014

Suggested tweet: Reach for the stars (+ planets + galaxies, too) at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic #explorecanada #darkskies

No matter how hard you try, you cannot touch the stars at Parc national du Mont-Mégantic. Besides being trillions of kilometres away, the stars and the night sky are protected at this provincial park in Quebec.

Mont-Mégantic was named the world’s first International Dark-Sky Preserve in 2007. There are several telescope observatories at the park; the mountaintop one at 1,100 m (3,608 ft) is used mainly by researchers, but the smaller observatory on the roof of the park’s ASTROlab is open year-round at a lower elevation for public stargazing.

The observatories at the park sit atop small mountains and are ringed by the dark forests of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It’s the perfect spot to stargaze: it’s high up, the climate is dry and there is little light pollution. These are the perfect conditions for exploring the solar system, especially with a boost from the observatory telescopes.

A highlight of the summer is the Popular Astronomy Festival, the only time of the year when the general public can watch a little cosmic scenery through the large research observatory’s telescope, the most powerful astronomical telescope in eastern North America. In 2014, the festival takes place every Friday evening from July 18 to Aug. 22.

The Friday festival begins with a shuttle-bus ride to the top of the mountain (dress warmly, as it can be cool) and a guided observation of the sunset as the skies make the shift from light to dark. Inside the observatory, the astronomers talk about their research and answer questions about the night sky. If the skies are clear, the large telescope is opened up. If the sky is cloud-covered, guests are treated to a multimedia program on the cosmos. This evening program is offered in French only.

Lower down the mountainside, inside the ASTROlab visitor centre, the story of the universe unfolds through films, photos and multimedia displays. As the skies darken and the stars come into view, visitors climb the staircase to the observatory on the roof of the lab. The doors of the observatory roof slide open, with the telescope lined up and focused to let the magic happen.

Mont-Mégantic is not the only place to go for stargazers in Canada. Star parties are a bit of a tradition at some of the country’s other Dark-Sky Preserves:

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