Looking up at the stars
Photos C/O Kyle West
By: Andrew Mrozowski
Big cities are beautifully illuminated at night, however one drawback is that it’s not often you can look up at the night sky and see constellations and planets. Hamilton is unique as it not only features a lot of green spaces that set the scene perfectly for stargazers, but also has a dedicated group of astronomers to keep the interest as alive as the stars in the sky.
One group that takes advantage of the clear, starry nights is the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers. The non-profit organization is the Canada’s largest independent astronomy club and is made up of 200 members who range from beginner to expert level astronomers.
“We strive to further not just the understanding of this fascinating science but also, and most importantly, the enjoyment of it,” said John Gauvreau, chair of the HAA.
Through free monthly events, the HAA holds meetings that are open to the public. At each of these events, a speaker showcases a presentation on astronomy or a related topic.
— HAA (@HAATweet) January 21, 2019
Kevin Salwach, a member of the HAA since 2009, presented A Step Back and a Look Up on March 8. Since the event was catered towards the general public, Salwach dropped all technical aspects of astronomy and highlighted the importance of amateur astronomy. He encouraged attendees to take a look at the bigger picture of the universe.
“I find stargazing to be one of the most humbling and relaxing hobbies out there. There is something about sitting under a clear, dark sky that brings me complete peace of mind,” said Salwach.
Starting from a young age, Salwach found himself fascinated with the world of astronomy after visiting the William J. McCallion Planetarium at the Burke Science Building on campus.
“I remember the student doing the presentation pointing out Orion’s belt on the projector, and then going home later that night and seeing the belt in the night sky with my own eyes got me hooked. I’ve been going back every Wednesday ever since,” said Salwach.
Originally opening in 1954, the Planetarium was the conception of William McCallion, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy. Before finding its permanent home in the basement of BSB in room 149, an old war-surplus parachute was hung from the ceiling and used as a planetarium dome. The planetarium was the first of its kind in Ontario to offer public shows.
Featuring two shows every Wednesday night, graduate students who are studying astronomy create and design a one-hour show on the topic of their choice.
Two upcoming shows at the planetarium are based on pop-culture. One show is set around the Star Trek universe. Attendees will be taken around the universe to explore different stellar objects and phenomenon that have been featured in the show. The other is set around the theme of Harry Potter as many names of the book’s characters are inspired by the field of astronomy.
For PhD candidate and manager of the planetarium, Ian Roberts, the space has become a second home during his time at McMaster.
“For me, I think it’s a totally unique experience — something that you are not going to get a chance to do in many places, to come in here when a show is going, it’s totally dark [in the room],”said Roberts. “The first time the night sky comes up, it is completely amazing. It’s very striking. Getting the opportunity to come to a facility like this is something that is super unique.” he added.
Between the McCallion Planetarium at McMaster as well as the numerous other events that the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers run every month, there is room for anybody to study the night sky, whether they have a general interest or are aspiring astronomers themselves.
“Anyone can go out and take a look at the night sky, it belongs to all of us. Especially for a university student who is bogged down with study and schoolwork, stargazing is a nice repose to the stress of school,” said Salwach.
There’s a lot of life down here on Earth, but if you take a look up, you will be introduced to a brand-new world filled with wonder and awe that is sure to strike your curiosity.