Wander the night sky
As the days get shorter, the stars shine longer, providing a great opportunity for stargazing. This pastime can literally “expand your horizons”, help you reduce stress and enjoy time with loved ones.
As you prepare to discover the night sky, consider what lies beyond our world. If you travelled in a spaceship at the speed of light, it would take you 150,000 years to get from one end of our Milky Way to the other. Look beyond, and you’d see trillions of galaxies each likely containing billions of planets and stars.
In a universe so vast and probably still expanding, some questions seem inevitable. Is Earth the only sphere that contains life? Could we live on other planets one day? Although we can’t get on a rocket ship yet, let’s look at some incredible sights visible from our backyards with no props required.
Reach for the stars
Did you know that your eyes can see objects up to a distance of about two million light years from Earth? Those twinkling lights can be so far away that by the time their glow reaches our eyes, some stars are already gone; others may burn for billions of years longer.
At home, you can download a star mapping app on your smartphone, then hold it to the sky and watch it chart outer space for you! The app connects the dots to form constellations. These patterns create Ursa Major, the Great Bear, Orion the Hunter and more.
If you’re a city dweller, “you need to get out of town to see the night sky well,” says Dr. Denis Laurin, space astronomy scientist at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). “In a city, only the very bright stars, some planets and the moon can be seen due to light pollution.” For a day trip (once COVID restrictions are lifted), consider visiting one of Canada’s observatories like British Columbia’s Gordon Southam Observatory or Ontario’s Dunlap Observatory for a look through some truly powerful telescopes.
Ride with the International Space Station
|Orbiting our Earth, this spacecraft is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. “NASA uses the International Space Station (ISS) to complete space exploration experiments,” says Laurin. As you may recall, two astronauts were launched out to the ISS in May by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the first private company to send passengers into orbit. Eventually, the company aims to build colonies on the moon and Mars.|
Laurin tells us the ISS looks like a moving light in the night sky that likely shines brighter than all other objects. Although it circles the Earth every 90 minutes, you’ll have to make sure not to miss it since it may not pass by your area again for a while. Visit NASA’s website and bookmark when the ISS can be viewed in your area.
Live on another planet
|Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—see these other worlds while you gaze out at our solar system. “Planets will appear similar to stars if you’re not using a telescope,” says Emily Deibert, PhD Astronomy candidate at the University of Toronto. “The difference is that they don’t twinkle like stars do. Observe them through a telescope and you should be able to see more detail, like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter or the rings around Saturn.” Deibert specializes in the study of planets outside of our solar system, and whether any of them may be able to host life.|
Although to date we haven’t found life on other planets, Deibert explains that astronomers recently found evidence of water vapour on a world outside of our solar system called K2-18b. “Astronomy can deepen your appreciation for our environment here on Earth,” she says. “When you learn how difficult it is to find Earth-like planets, it really drives home how precious our own planet is.”
Travelling beyond our solar system in our lifetime doesn’t seem likely. However, it’s quite possible that within the next few generations we may begin setting up colonies on Mars and the moon, according to Deibert.
Launch your new hobby
With COVID-19 presenting many new challenges this year, one positive is that the skies have become clearer with less pollution. Greenhouse gases dropped by 17% in early April. This makes it an ideal time to stargaze. Deibert tells us, “I think people who have never tried it have a lot to gain. It’s so much fun, and you can enjoy this hobby alone or with family and friends—even while social distancing. I think it offers the chance to get a break from daily life and ponder things much bigger than us.”
When the sun sets, the marvels of the cosmos sparkle for a spectacular view that’ll leave you feeling at peace with the universe.