“We should be able to see Venus in the northern sky in about an hour,” says Jean-Pierre, from Montréal-Nord. “Jupiter will come into view two hours later. Then we’ll have to wait patiently until 4:00 to a.m., before we aim our scopes at Saturn, in the east.”
“You have to be free at night to do astronomy,” says Jean-Pierre, who, on retirement, reconnected with this childhood hobby. His family knows never to disturb him in the morning, because he’s still snoozing.
His friend, Yves Martin, is not so lucky yet.
“Getting up to go to work isn’t always easy,” says the amateur astronomer. “But there are some things you can’t miss . . . that occur just once a year . . . or every few centuries!”
Another budding astronomer on the hill points his telescope into the clear night sky at about 10:00 p.m. He also got back into astronomy as he approached retirement. With a family and career, our daily routines quickly bring us back to earth, even if our eyes are focused on the universe.
“Astronomy takes concentration, patience . . . and opportunity,” says Jean-Pierre Lessard. Something special in the sky? Everything else can wait! The only possible hitch? Clouds.
“I once spent three days on the road to be at the right time and place to see a two-minute solar eclipse,” says Yves, smiling.
Sounds of Silence
Not a peep can be heard on the hilltop. An air of contemplation and dedication reigns.
“Early in the evening, we might take some time to chat with onlookers, like kids with lots of questions about our equipment—but when we’re starwatching, we don’t want to be distracted,” says Jean-Pierre.
Gazing through binoculars or telescopes, Montréal’s astronomers focus for hours on sights that are hundreds of millions of kilometers away.
“I watched Jupiter for 45 minutes on Monday,” said Yves. “It spins quickly and I love observing its bands and four largest moons.”
The planet and moons glisten, without twinkling, in the evening sky. The astronomers, all dressed in black, with their phones off and away, raise their gaze to infinity.
“The universe is probably not infinite,” however, says down-to-earth Yves
- “Evening Star” Venus is the first heavenly body to appear in the sky each night.
- Sirius (not the North Star!) is the brightest star in the sky.
- Mars is the planet to keep your eyes on this summer, when it will be closest to the earth during its two-year orbit.
- Starwatching is best with a clear sky and low humidity, in both summer and winter.
STARGAZING IN MONTRÉAL
Like to look at heavenly bodies from the city? No problem, says the Société d’astronomie de Montréal. Because of its elevation and distance from major sources of urban light pollution, the hilltop of Ahuntsic’s parc des Hirondelles, is an excellent spot for urban astronomy.
The Club d’astronomie de Montréal hosts a number of activities each year. Its site also provides a host of information for beginners: http://www.lasam.ca/
The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium site is also a must for future astronomers: http://espacepourlavie.ca/astronomie