Report: Jasper Dark Sky Festival celebrating 10 years of connecting to the dark

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Report: Jasper Dark Sky Festival celebrating 10 years of connecting to the dark
Report: Jasper Dark Sky Festival celebrating 10 years of connecting to the dark

Venture Beyond Earth is the theme of this year’s Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival, Oct. 16 to 25.

It’s the tenth anniversary of the hugely popular event.

Niki Wilson, a science journalist who has hosted the festival for seven years, said she’s pleased to offer festival-goers an exciting program.

“Jasper National Park is a special place where it’s actually dark enough to see the Milky Way or glimpse the aurora,” she said.

Wilson explained the festival was created to celebrate the fact that Jasper National Park is a dark sky preserve in Canada. The park’s designation as the world’s second largest accessible dark sky preserve came in 2011.

“It’s difficult to get that distinction because you have to meet certain criteria for darkness,” Wilson said. “Your town has to adhere to certain criteria to maintain that.”

Specific lighting has been installed to reduce light pollution in parts of downtown Jasper, along Connaught Drive and at areas at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge where the Jasper Planetarium is located.

Events have been modified for this year’s event to align with new COVID protocols – but an entertaining, educational lineup of speakers is in place.

Wilson said the keynote events will be done on a smaller scale with guests appearing on a big screen.

Celebrated astronauts Robert Thirsk and Nicole Stott will share their personal experiences aboard the 2009 mission on the International Space Station, and speculate on the future of space exploration.

Next up, founder and CEO of Delalune Space, Rob Meyerson, and NASA engineer, Adam Stelzner will talk about why we should go to Mars, and what it will take to get there.

Morning keynotes by Torah Kachur, science columnist at CBC, and Dr. Shawna Pandya, citizen-scientist astronaut candidate, will be followed by lively Q & A sessions the events are known for.

And there will still be symphonies during the festival. One at night – on Oct. 17 – and Symphony Under the Sun on Oct. 18.

“It’s entertaining and really fun,” Wilson said.

Other events include Peak-Nic Under the Stars and a family-friendly Animals of the Night Hike – all while maintaining two metres between guests.

There will also be Stars and Smoke at Maligne Canyon, a two-course dinner followed by the opportunity to peek at the galaxy through some of the Canadian Rockies’ biggest telescopes. To finish the day, the Downstream Lounge will host an entertaining evening of science at After Dark Trivia Night, hosted by Canadian television personality Alan Nursall.

For folks those looking to enjoy the Dark Sky Preserve all month long, the Jasper Planetarium will be hosting several events throughout the entire month of October.

Dark skies present fascinating sights to see, and they’re important for another reason.

“A lot of wildlife, and ourselves too, need cycles of light and dark,” Wilson said. “Many species have evolved based on those cues. Dark spaces are necessary for both mental and physical health.”

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