Another slow spring day in Ottawa, going for a morning run along the Rideau Canal, grabbing a bubble tea and finishing up the readings for my summer course. With some time on my hands before the start of my summer job, I figured I would take the opportunity to get out and see what’s going on in the nation’s capital. It only took a few minutes of browsing through Facebook events to find one that was close (and free of course). Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon science on the hill and the potential for some summer stargazing!
Hosted by Science Odyssey, a 10 day long celebration of science with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, dozens came to watch the transit of Mercury across the Sun with the help from the Ottawa Centre of the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society and their impressive telescopes. The Canada Science and Technology Museum was hosting very cool demonstrations that included liquid nitrogen plus the Canadian Space Agency brought some remote controlled space rover prototypes for the public to drive around.
We were all there to learn a bit more about the transit of Mercury. It is when that small planet comes between the Sun and the Earth and it becomes visible as it partially obscures the Sun. For about seven hours, Mercury made its way from one side of the Sun to the other before, once again, becoming invisible in the daylight. The astrological event itself is quite irregular with past occurrences in 1999, 2003 and 2006. Since Mercury orbits closest to the sun, the event is more frequent than a transit of Venus but remains a rare spectacle nonetheless, with the next occurrences in 2019 then 2049.
The volunteers from the Canadian Astronomical Society were extremely kind and informative to anyone willing to listen, tourists and locals alike. They brought with them nearly a dozen telescopes for the public to peer through. When I asked one if they came to Parliament Hill often for sky gazing, he told me that this was their first time and they were honoured to have been invited by the government of Canada. I have to sat, it is a nice change to see scientist welcomed back to Parliament Hill. The society usually hold gatherings for astrological events but also have monthly free public stargazing events which they call Star Parties (how cool is that?).
There was also a brief visit from the ambassadors of Science Odyssey Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan and Parliamentary Secretary of Science, Terry Beech who spoke about the importance of science and innovation and engaging our youth to pursue their interests in the field. It was a little funny to see them being followed around the lawn by CBC cameras and slightly confused tourists but they were very kind and politely addressed questions that anyone willing to approach them would ask. Kirsty Duncan even took a moment to play with the space rovers. The event itself was held for about 4 hours (since the transit of Mercury takes around 7 hours) but it was fun to drop in and take a look to see what was going on!
To find out more about science and technology events happening in your area from May 6th to the 15th, check out the Science Odyssey Facebook page, Twitter account or science.gc.ca for the full event map.
And as aforementioned, the Ottawa Centre of the Royal Canadian Astronomical Society holds monthly gatherings for stargazing that are open to the public. If you’re in Ottawa and looking for something to do on a warm summer evening, the next Star Party will be held on May 27th in the parking lot of the Carp Branch of the Ottawa Public library. If you miss this one, the summer schedule shows that that next ones w9ill be held on June24th, July 29th and August 26th. Check for full details on their site here; more maps, directions and alternate dates are available.