“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure
the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Og Mandino
Jasper held it’s fifth annual Dark Sky Festival from October 16 – 25 this year and our whole family drove out to experience the various activities in and around town. While there are stargazing events through the duration of the festival, the family activities happened on the last Friday and Saturday with something for everyone at all times of the day and night.
With the tag line Power Down, Look Up, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival encourages everyone in the family to put down your devices and experience the world around you.
As the festival’s name suggests, the focus is on science and astronomy, but underneath the surface, it is so much more than that.
Prior to hitting the festival, we had a day of exploring. My family made the short drive out to Athabasca Falls then did some shopping in Jasper while I took in an informative guided hike through Maligne Canyon with Walks & Talks Jasper.
If you want to experience more than just a walk while looking at the trees, I recommend Paula and her tour company as she pointed out numerous spots and sights that I would have missed.
Headlining the evening on Friday in a keynote address, Col. Chris Hadfield spoke about what it was like to go into space. He spoke about what happened before and during the take off, through the mission and then he described the descent back to earth to a spellbound audience. Often humorous and always inspiring, this was a great session to listen to.
After the keynote address, festival goers were welcome out to Lake Annette to stargaze. Although the evening was cloudy, there was a lot of educational and interesting events happening along the shore. Shuttle service from the keynote to Lake Annette and back was free and they ran every 15 minutes.
Paths along the ground led to various displays from TELUS World of Science, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Dark Sky Photographers, Parks Canada and other special guests.
I appreciated the accessibility of the hosts and presenters during the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. While we were at Lake Annette, I joined in around the fire where two women from the aboriginal community were sharing songs and stories and I ran into one of the women the following day at a separate event where I was able to ask her some questions about what she had shared the night before.
On Saturday, our children experienced a full day and night of discovery and they didn’t want the day to end. The TELUS World of Science hosted a free day of crafts and experiments at Centennial Field, just a few blocks walk from the main street and tourist area.
At one station, kids could make a simple rocket that launched from a straw. At another, kids could craft larger rockets out of 2L bottles. Once those rockets were made, it was time to take them outside to test them with an assisted pressurized launch. The rockets were hooked up, the countdown was called out and when they were ready for take off, the kids pulled their pin, sending their creation into space.
For those curious about the stars and beyond, free presentations were held with experts speaking on topics from aliens to black holes. The seating was open and you could join and leave as you liked.
Later in the afternoon members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada set up telescopes for anyone who wanted to sneak a peak at the sun or a glimpse at a couple of the planets that happened to be in orbit during the day. Festival attendees could walk from telescope to telescope to look at different views and ask questions to learn more about the world above us.
The star gazing continued into the evening when the sun set and a clear sky displayed more stars than you will ever see in the city. The telescopes were moved to the Visitor Information Centre lawn for an evening of stargazing. The field was dark, but our young daughters loved it.
A memorable moment for me was looking at the moon up close through a high-powered telescope. After I took a peek, my four year old climbed a small step stool (provided by the telescope operators) to gaze out into space. I will never forget the look of wonder on her face the moment she laid eyes on the moon. Her face relaxed, she pulled back an inch and paused as if she was processing what she was looking at. A second later she tightened her grip on the stool and went back for another look.
It was that beautiful.
Then came the awkwardness when I had to explain that there were other people in line who wanted to look too. After a moment, she got off the stool to let the next person look and promptly walked to the back to stand in line for another look.
We found the festival educational on many levels and our kids loved the activities and the experiences they wouldn’t get back home. I enjoyed the hands-on activities that our whole family had the chance to participate in, and most for free.
For more information on the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, check them out at http://jasperdarksky.travel/ and consider making the trip out to go beyond!