I’ve always been fascinated with space (as a kid I owned a cassette called “Star Tunes” that taught me the names of the planets in catchy songs that I can still sing today). There’s so many cool things to learn about, and it inspires an incredible amount of wonder when you really think about how big and crazy the universe is.
This interest in space came back into my mind this weekend as I camped near Georgian Bay. The one thing that struck me the most was how beautiful the stars are. As a downtown city dweller, it’s easy to forget how bright and wonderful the night sky can look when you’re out in the country!
U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is really good at harnessing public excitement for what lies beyond the Earth. They run a variety of outreach programs in conjunction with the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.
In the past few months, I’ve gone to a couple of the public planetarium shows that they host. Did you know that the astronomy building has a digital planetarium? It’s an inflatable dome with enough chairs to fit about 25 people. Visual representations of parts of the galaxy, both real pictures and theoretical models, can be projected onto the surface as an astronomer leads the group through a talk about a specific topic.
The shows I’ve been to have been about the life and death of stars, and interesting details about our solar system. Despite being a science student who’s gleefully watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos, I still walked out of each show excited about the new things I had learned. The small group setting of the shows makes it easy to ask questions and indulge your curiosity!
The next show is on August 28, titled “Galaxies, Planets, and Life in the Universe”, and I’d highly recommend it to any curious space fans!
In case you can’t make it, though, let’s talk about some fun space facts right here in this blog post. U of T Astronomy has an online feature called “Ask An Astronomer” where you can submit your questions and have them answered by an expert. They’ve compiled all of the answers onto the website, and the database is a treasure trove.
Here’s some of my favourite facts that I learned:
- The Milky Way and Andromeda, our neighbouring galaxy, will collide in 4-5 billion years.
- It takes light 8 minutes to reach us from the sun.
- There are several thousand satellites orbiting the Earth right now.
- The Super Massive Black Hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy weighs as much as 4 million suns.
- Astronomers have automated detectors that can find new comets, asteroids and supernovae. No more staring at the night sky, I guess!
- And my favourite fact from “Ask An Astronomer” is just so good that I have to quote it from them verbatim: “An interesting fact is that if you were indestructible you could hide inside a Black Hole and no one would ever see you, although you would be able to see everyone. The problem is you would never be able to get out as well.”
Go stare at some stars, U of T!