Jasper National Park, one of the world's largest dark sky preserves, was host to the 5th annual Dark Sky Festival for the past nine days. A dark sky preserve is an area with limited light pollution that allows the best viewing of the night sky. Jasper was named a dark sky preserve in 2011 by the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada. Since then, Jasper has celebrated by hosting the Darky Sky Festival. This year, the festival concluded with two keynote presentations: Col. Chris Hadfield and Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, and Kari Byron from Discovery's Mythbusters.
When my husband, Vance, and I arrived in Jasper on Friday evening, we were first treated to the keynote address by Col. Chris Hadfield. Hadfield, who was the first Canadian to walk in space, was made famous by his use of social media to post pictures of his time on the International Space Station. He is a dynamic speaker, and described in detail what it was like the first time he went to space. From discussing his adult diaper (covered with pink and blue astronauts), to throwing up in the vacuum of space, there was lots of entertaining moments in his presentation. However, it was the passion of which he spoke of the beauty of space and Earth while showing his photography that brought tears to my eyes. Also, the fervor for which he spoke about inspiring young Canadians to 'reach for the stars' was so admirable, that he instantly won the hearts of everyone in the audience. He said multiple times that "if a little Canadian boy was able to accomplish his dream, any child here could do the same". He concluded his presentation by sharing his love of music and playing a song from his new album, 'Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can'. Over-all, it was one of the best science-related presentations I have ever attended.
After Hadfield's presentation, we took a shuttle to Lake Annette, where Telus World of Science and Parks Canada had multiple stations and activities set up on the shore line. It was a beautiful walk to the shore from where the shuttle dropped us off; the trees were lined with different coloured and shaped lanterns. Once guests arrived at the shore, there were strings of lights in different colours on the sand illuminating the pathway to the different activities. The beauty and uniqueness of the lighting really set a mood of discovery. Some of the activities included star-gazing with telescopes, looking at artifacts from different nocturnal animals, learning about meteors and backyard astronomy, and listening to songs and legends about the night sky from Canada's FNMI population. The best part of this event was that it was 100% free to attend.
On Saturday, children were treated to many free activities, such as shooting off model rockets and learning about aliens. However, we chose to spend the afternoon taking a step away from astronomy and learning about geology at Athabasca Falls. The falls, which are 30 km south of the Jasper townsite, can be accessed by heading towards the icefields parkway. The falls were created by the combined efforts of erosion from the Athabasca valley glacier and water from the Columbia icefields. There is an awesome intrepretive trail along both sides of the falls, which are connected by a concrete walking bridge over the canyon gorge. The trails contain intrepretive information about the flora and fauna in the area, in addition to how the falls were created. It is a great way to spend the afternoon taking pictures or having a picnic with the family.
Next, we headed back to the Jasper townsite for the Mythbusters presentation. Tory, Grant, and Kari seemed genuinely excited to be included in this festival, and tried to tie their mythbusting and science presentation into the theme of stars and space. They showed a video that focused on the moon landing myths that they worked on using one of the world's largest vacuums. They also told stories about their favourite moments on the show. Now that it has been announced that Mythbusters will be ending next year, the team was especially nostalgic in sharing their experiences. They shared their favourite myths from over the past decade (Grant's = Lexus gravity acceleration, Tory's = cement truck, Kari's = exploding pants), and told their most painful and disgusting stories. It was a truly entertaining evening that any science geek would have enjoyed. My favourite moment was in how Kari described the importance of getting young girls involved in science, and how Grant insisted that science is everywhere, not just in test tubes in classrooms. It was refreshing to see how many children were in the audience, and I hope they were inspired to learn more about science.
Ultimately, the Dark Sky Festival is not only a way to draw tourists to the Jasper townsite in a low season (many summer activities are closed, and none of the winter ones have opened yet), but it is also a way to educate people on the night sky and to promote an appreciation for space and other science-related activities. If next year proves to be as successful as this year in having amazing keynote speakers, Jasper can expect me to be there with telescope in hand.
Professional photo cred: Jasper Dark Sky Festival website
SEARCH BY TAGS:
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!