Eyes on the skies — June

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (<– see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

June formally ushers in summer, that time of the year when Canadians leave the confines of their homes and make their way to the wilderness. And stargazing is a uniquely memorable part of our experience.

Perhaps that’s because so many Ontarians live in areas with light pollution. City dwellers seldom see the stars and then, only the brightest ones. But to miss the stars is to lose our connection with the beauty and mysteries of the skies.

Heading outside? Here are our astronomical highlights for June, 2019:

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Eyes on the skies — May

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (<– see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

While spring “technically” begins in March, most of us living in cold climates tend to celebrate May as the true start to the season.

The lakes open to allow the first paddle strokes, and the songs of migratory birds can be heard throughout the land. Staying up through twilight lets you see the splendors of the evening sky whilst being serenaded by the lovely sound of Spring Peepers and Chorus Frogs.

Here are our astronomical highlights for May, 2019:

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Featured constellations: the Bears and a Dragon

In last month’s blog, we discussed some of the constellations that are prominent in the spring: Leo the Lion, Cancer the Crab, and Coma Berenices (Queen Berenice of Egypt’s hair).

This month, we will focus on two of the most well-known, as well as one of the longest, constellations visible in the night sky: Ursa Major, the Great Bear (Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear (Little Dipper).

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Eyes on the skies — April

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (<– see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

For those of us in Ontario, April is that transition month between winter and spring weather. The snows start to melt away, the lakes start to open up and, by month’s end, the first buds may appear on the trees.

Here are our astronomical highlights for April, 2019:

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The Northern Lights

Seeing the magnificent Northern Lights is a bucket list item for any nature lover.

But did you know that the Northern Lights are caused by charged particles from the Sun?

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is the name given to an often-ethereal band or curtain of faint light seen towards the northern horizon. Generally, the light is so faint that the light pollution of even a small town can wash it out.

However, in the dark skies of many of our provincial parks, the Northern Lights can be spectacular.

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The Milky Way Galaxy

On a clear dark summer or winter night, you can see a cloudy band of light traversing the sky.

This light is known as the Milky Way.

The Milky Way actually has nothing to do with dairy. Instead, it’s the term for the light of hundreds of millions of stars that are so far away we cannot see them as individual points of light. Instead, we see their combined glow as a fuzzy, glowing band of light.

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Zodiacal light and the gegenschein

The importance of having dark sky preserves cannot be understated.

In addition to the many benefits already described previously in our blog, you can see many things that others can’t from the light-polluted skies of our urban and, increasingly, our rural locations.

The zodiacal light and the gegenschein are two phenomena known for centuries, but only visible in dark skies with a good western or eastern horizon.

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Featured constellation: Leo the Lion

For thousands of years, humans have looked up at the stars. The stars helped them try to understand their purpose, and the role they play in our lives.

To help memorize the different stars, patterns of connect-the-dot figures were created by many different cultures. Today, we recognize 88 official patterns or “constellations” of stars.

In last month’s blog, we discussed Gemini the Twins, as well as two other prominent constellations seen in the winter.

This month’s post will focus on three constellations that mark the transition from winter to spring: Leo the Lion, Cancer the Crab, and Coma Berenices.

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