New planetarium in the works at UTSG

The world-class facility will provide unparalleled access to the cosmos

New planetarium in the works at UTSG

The Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is planning to replace the current Astronomy & Astrophysics Building with a new structure that includes a planetarium, which could become a tourist and cultural centrepiece in Toronto. 

The proposed construction is at 50 St. George Street, where the facility is currently located. 

According to Raymond Carlberg, Chair of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, the new planetarium will seat around 150 people, six times more than the 25-person capacity of the department’s current planetarium. Blueprints for the planetarium could be finalized as early as 2020.

The planetarium attracts students and the general public for its shows like the Grand Tour of the Cosmos and The Life and Death of Stars, which are usually led by U of T graduate students. 

However, the current theatre has limitations. 

It is not wheelchair-accessible, and requires patrons to plan early to avoid the dreaded ‘bad seats,’ where catching a glimpse of the stars comes with a side of neck tension. 

According to Carlberg, the new planetarium would also improve pedagogy.  

“In Canada, most of the planetariums are in things like the Ontario Science Centre — but they don’t have an academic use there,” said Carlberg. “We’re not looking to do what Ontario Science Centre does, which is orient it to the public at large. We’re interested in giving students the best possible education.” 

In addition to providing one-of-a-kind learning opportunities for their students, the department hopes that the new planetarium will be a forum for reconciliation and Indigenous education.  

“Indigenous people… have a sky lore of their own,” explained Carlberg. 

“We have a sky lore with our Greek and Roman constellations and they have theirs. In fact, there [are] several, for different native communities across North America because they each have their own stories. So that’s a thing we would like to do, is reach out to folks and to try to help them succeed within the University of Toronto.”

The department is now in the ‘idea stage’ of the design process. Since the current Astronomy & Astrophysics Building would have to be demolished to build the planetarium, there is discussion over other potential features of the building including an observatory, faculty offices, and teaching labs. 

Though details are sparse, the department hopes  that the new facility will be an architectural landmark whose purpose goes beyond the scope of astronomy, from visualizing climate data to exploring the neural networks of the human brain. 

The ultimate guide to watching meteor showers

Here’s how you can wish upon a shooting star this year

The ultimate guide to watching meteor showers

Despite being pieces of space debris, meteors put on a magnificent display when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, decorating the night sky with vivid colours of blues, greens, yellows and reds. Whether you are an avid meteor shower watcher or a first-time goer, here are tips to help you catch a better glimpse of Earth’s rocky visitors.

Where do I go?

Although this may come as a surprise, it is actually not very difficult to find a good location to view meteor showers. Just keep in mind the following points when hunting for your spot of the night:

Look for an open area like a field or a park. Steer clear of places where your view of the sky is obstructed by buildings, trees, or other tall objects.

Make sure it’s dark enough. City lights can be a huge distraction and take away from the visibility of the meteors. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Associate Professor Michael Reid recommends that you refrain from looking at your phone. “Your eyes take about ten minutes to fully adapt to darkness,” said Reid. “If you look at a cell phone screen or streetlight even briefly, you’ll degrade your night vision.”

How do I prepare?

You don’t need any fancy equipment to view this celestial event. However, the following tips can make your viewing experience more pleasant:

Grab a lawn chair. Keeping your eyes on the skies so you don’t miss a single second of stars shooting across the darkness requires a lot of upwards gazing. Bring a chair or a blanket to spread on the ground so you can do so in comfort.

Pack bug spray and a jacket. Summer nights spent outdoors entails mosquitoes and other little critters. Stay bite-free with bug spray and have a light jacket to throw on when it gets chilly.

Gather your friends. “Meteor watching requires patience, so it is a great chance to pick out constellations in the sky,” said Professor Raymond Carlberg, Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Having your friends to share the moment can make wait times between meteor fly-bys a lot more entertaining. You could try to spot stars or play a round of astronomy trivia.

Check the weather. Nothing can be worse than a rainwstorm on the night you scheduled your outing, or the moon outshining all the meteors in your area. Be sure to check the weather and location of the moon prior to making your trip.

When is the next meteor shower?

Now that you’re ready to go, be on the lookout for more accurate predictions of the best times to catch each of these events. Meteor showers typically occur over the span of a couple of days, so if you miss the days listed below, try your luck another time. The International Meteor Organization also has a detailed calendar of upcoming meteor showers.

October 21 – peak for the Orionids showers

November 17 – peak for the Leonids showers

December 13 – peak for the Geminids showers

Happy meteor shower watching!