people standing in observatory field at night, stargazing

Stars over Killarney 2018

What happens when two great organizations work together to promote astronomy and dark skies? An incredible experience that captivated visitors from all over Ontario and beyond.

On September 22, 2018, we launched Ontario Parks’ first Dark-Sky Preserve in Killarney Provincial Park (the other is in Lake Superior Provincial Park) with a special “Stars over Killarney” program. Joining us as co-hosts for this special event were our friends at Science North, one of Canada’s best hands-on science museums.

Art and science intersected as over 300 visitors were enchanted by both the magnificent scenery of Killarney and the fascination of the skies above. Entertained by musicians and educated by science experts, the blacked-out conditions of the provincial park allowed participants to truly enjoy a full and rich experience.

To start: a guided tour

The day began at Science North with a show in the Planetarium and tour of Polaris Boulevard.

Science North demonstration
Dr. Olathe MacIntyre (staff scientist at Science North) leads participants along Polaris Boulevard to a huge sundial, while Lucie Robillard explores the night’s sky with Science North’s Planetarium, a popular stop for both school groups and general public alike

Next up: a tough choice

Upon their arrival at Killarney Provincial Park, participants had a decision to make: a guided hike or a comet-making workshop.

Christine Legrand (Staff Scientist at Science North) and Sara McEwan (Killarney’s Natural Heritage Education Leader) led hikers to Granite Ridge.

hikers on Granite Ride Trail

Two of the park’s astronomers-in-residence, Bill and Vicki Sherwood, demonstrated how comets are made using dry ice and other key ingredients.

comet-making experiment at amphitheatre

As the sun set…

After dinner, participants were entertained with a special song about dark-sky preservation. This song was composed by Brenda Freed in honour of the occasion. She was joined by Michael D’Eath for its premiere performance.

musicians sing a song on stage at night
Singer songwriter Brenda Freed playing her composition of “Dark Skies” accompanied by Michael D’Eath

Hearing 300 voices singing about protecting our skies was inspiring and heart-warming.

After introductions from Superintendent Jeremy Pawson and Jesse Hildebrand (founder of National Science Literacy Week), astronomer-in-residence Vicki Sherwood delivered a keynote presentation on the importance of dark skies and what we can all do to improve lighting where we live.

powerpoint presentation delivered at night in park amphitheatre

A captivating 700 m guided night walk followed a scale model of the solar system, leading the audience from the amphitheatre to the Killarney Provincial Park Observatory Complex, where members of the Sudbury and North Bay Astronomy Clubs had aimed more than 20 telescopes of varying sizes at different objects in the clear night sky.

At the observatory complex site, Professor Will Morin provided an outstanding presentation on Ojibwe constellations and star lore (his son Wii’um had previously sung in honour of the fall equinox).

interpretive signs about astronomy

Bruce Waters, founder of the Killarney Provincial Park Observatory Complex, hosted visitors on the Complex’s new 16″ telescope and observatory, while astronomer-in-residence Bill Gardner and education leader Sara McEwan hosted visitors at the existing 10″ telescope and observatory.

telescope at Killarney

Participants were treated to extraordinary views of the rings of Saturn, the craters of the moon, spectacular double stars and more.

By the end of the night, participants had gained a full appreciation of our natural environment as kept in its pristine condition by experiencing a first-hand the rich cultural, geological and astronomical diversity available in the Killarney / Sudbury region of Ontario.

Preserving Killarney’s dark skies

Dark Sky Preserve badgeDark skies are a precious natural resource, one that we’re proud to protect in our parks.

Killarney is the first provincial park in Ontario to receive the prestigious Dark-Sky Preserve designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Stargazing in our protected provincial parks is a natural fit, and almost all of our parks provide a view of the skies that is often darker and more star-studded than that of our light-polluted cities.

Want a better look at the planets and galaxies above us?

Reddish galaxy

Killarney’s campers can sign out the park’s research-grade Observatory Complex free of charge. So plan a visit; the opportunity to see deep into space is available to professional and amateur astronomers alike.