If you live somewhere relatively urban, chances are high that your local university offers free astronomy public tours on a regular basis. The first one I ever attended at the University of Toronto changed my view of the world. I’ll never forget the first time I looked through their telescope and saw Orion’s Nebula and the glittering stars within, shining like cut diamonds. I was hooked. Every month I found myself marching into the physics building to listen to a lecture on star births or the search for meaning in the universe, before heading up to the observatory to feast on the night sky. Although I’m no longer living in that particular city, lucky Torontonians can now also visit U of T’s new Planetarium as part of the free tour.
If you are away from home, a local observatory can also be a wonderful stopping point on vacation. While on a recent trip to Orlando, I eschewed Disneyland, opting instead for a day at Cocoa Beach. As night fell, I made a side-trip to Brevard Community College Planetarium and Observatory, which has a free astronomy exhibit hall in addition to regular viewing nights. Although it took a little extra planning (most observatories are open to the public on certain days only) it was well worth the effort, and a wonderfully un-touristy addition to the holiday.
Climbing the stairs to a new telescope is like climbing your way into the heavens. No matter where you are in the world, each set of observatory stairs will lead you home. Not only do you get to immerse in informative space lectures and view awe-inspiring images through a powerful telescope, but you will also meet other star-loving folks from your neighbourhood and around the world. The expansive universe brings us closer together.
So – what is your local observatory or planetarium doing this week?