Skip to content

North Bay Astronomy Club explores the wonders of the universe

'You’re seeing it with your own eyes and it’s really there, it’s no longer just a picture in a book. It’s a real planet, with rings and moons'

Rooted is all about the people, places, and events, that make us proud to call our community home.     

If you have young kids like I do, last week's solar eclipse sparked a lot of questions and a lot of wonder in those young imaginations.  With the day designated a PD Day by schools across the province, my kids were fortunate enough to spend the day at a friend's house and their mom went out and got all the kids their special glasses so they could safely watch the event.   

It’s something Michelle St-Onge and Dave Roscoe love to see and encourage more of. St-Onge is the President of the North Bay Astronomy Club and alongside the club's Vice President Roscoe, the pair appeared on a recent episode of To North Bay With Love with Lisa Boivin to talk about the eclipse, and everything related to astronomy.   

“I always say if a little kid learns how to point out three or four constellations, if he or she can be walking out to the car one night and say, ‘oh, there's Gemini, or Castor and Pollux’ and just throw out two or three little tidbits and factoids there is a definite sense of accomplishment. And that goes for anybody, but it is great to see it in the kids,” says Roscoe.  

The North Bay Astronomy Club is a community-based organization dedicated to making astronomy interesting and fun for everybody.  

They host a variety of activities that include monthly meetings, community star parties, public education, and recreational stargazing. That included a viewing event at the North Bay waterfront this past week for the total solar eclipse. However, as Roscoe explains, because of where we are, North Bay only got to see approximately 91.3 per cent of the totality of the eclipse.   

See: North Bay Astronomy Club to host eclipse viewing event at waterfront

“The southern side of Lake Ontario, St. Catharines and Niagara and into Buffalo got an excellent view of the totality because it was passing right overhead,” he explains.   

Roscoe explains you should only ever use the approved glasses anytime there is an eclipse.   

“It’s never safe to look directly at the sun, whether there is an eclipse or not. But during an eclipse, you should only use the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) approved safety glasses and they don’t expire. Since 2015 a standard was made for the material they need to be made from, and the method that’s used to make them, and so if you buy ISO-approved glasses they will be good to use for the next eclipse events.”  

Roscoe says that in any given year there are always two of each eclipse between lunar and solar eclipses. He says the explanation for why some are more visible than others is a bit more complicated and if you want the breakdown you can find it on this website. 

He adds there are also times when Venus and Mercury fall in the path between the sun and the earth and those are different events altogether. He points out, that what people often get confused with is those planets' alignment and how it relates to horoscopes.   

“Astronomy and astrology are a little different,” Roscoe says.“Astrology began as a sort of scientific basis where people were observing patterns and trying to put two and two together - cause and effect. But they just came to a few wrong conclusions. It still has to do with the constellations but with astrology you’re studying the 12 constellations as opposed to the 88 of them that are in the sky. Astronomy is a much bigger field of study.”  

St-Onge just recently came into the role of president of the Astronomy Club after being a member for seven years. She says astronomy was a subject that always fascinated her.  

“Me and my older brother used to go out to Lake Nosbonsing by our cottage and lay down in the field and look at the stars. He was four years older than me, so he was able to point out those constellations and there was just something magical about staring up at the night sky and seeing all those bright dots way above you. You realize how small you are and how vast that is,” she says.   

St-Onge says another moment that has stuck with her through stargazing was the first time she saw Saturn.   

“I had just gotten my telescope and I was using it for looking at planets and doing astrophotography and I’m figuring out the best viewing is actually when it's cold, like really cold. It’s -26 in February in Corbeil and I’m juggling all my eyepieces trying to find Saturn. I found Jupiter easily enough but eventually, I found Saturn. When you actually see it for the first time, there is this Eureka moment when you just feel so accomplished because you found it yourself. You’re seeing it with your own eyes and it’s really there, it’s no longer just a picture in a book. It’s a real planet, with rings and moons.”  

Roscoe says that one of the most enjoyable things about doing outreach is giving people their first opportunity to see those planets themselves. “It is a big ball in the sky and you can see it through your telescope and you can see the stripes and the surface coloration of the planets and the rings.”   

St-Onge says when people want to start getting into astronomy and star gazing the best place to start is just with a pair of binoculars.  “People think they have to get a telescope right away, but sometimes you can actually see much better with your own eyes. The telescope focuses on things quite closely so you might miss things. I suggest to people, to get a good pair of binoculars and look at the sky with those because you can see so much within that little frame. Use those first and once you find something you’re looking for, then use your telescope to make that object closer. But you can see Jupiter with its moons clearly with your own eyes or with binoculars,” she says.  

Roscoe says for those who have an interest in learning more about astronomy, their club is a great place to start.   

“We meet once a month at the Coworking Space at 176 Lakeshore Drive, beside West Ferris Arena, and we have guest speakers. We talk about what’s happening in the sky that month. This month we have a segment called Bob’s way cool deep sky object of the month.”  

Roscoe explains one of their long-time members (Bob Chapman) has been recording and observing objects in the sky for many years and has actually received some awards for the objects he has logged. “He reads from his notes about some particularly interesting object that is usually currently viewable and challenges people to go out and try to find it themselves, usually it is a galaxy or a nebula or something like that.”  

“We also have presenters who talk about things like meteorites and the meteorite showers and the different colours they come in that you can see in the sky,” adds St-Onge.   

“We also have our annual Gateway to the Universe party, which this year will be from August 1st to 5th and people can come and camp out for the weekend and have their telescopes set up – we have tons of room there and facilities, electrical hookups. We’re trying to promote learning and education about astronomy. It’s also a good chance for people who have questions about their equipment to learn how to use it better.”  

St-Onge says they’ll also point out certain targets in the sky and teach people how to locate those objects using their equipment.  “It’s family-friendly, pet friendly, there’s prizes to be won. It’s quite a popular event.”  

St-Onge says people often ask them about what they think about the big question; Is there life on other planets? St-Onge says, she believes it's rather unreasonable to disregard the possibility of life existing on other planets at this stage.  

“I mean, just look at what the James Webb telescope has been showing us recently,” she says.   

“We’re seeing whole solar systems with planets around them and we can just see so much farther now than we ever could before.”  

Roscoe says, “In the last 20 years, we've gradually been seeing more and more. We know how many billions of galaxies there are and within every galaxy, it contains billions of stars, and we now know that most of those stars have planetary systems around them. So, the factors that came about for life to form here on Earth weren’t really the most unusual or spectacular events for that to take place – we're made from the four most common elements in the universe; spectroscopically we can see that those elements are more common throughout the universe that all the other elements. It’s a bit naive to think that it's impossible.”  

St-Onge adds, “It just depends on how those elements eventually combine and evolve and what circumstances their planet is going to meet to create those habitable conditions. But there’s got to be some kind of life.”  

For those interested in learning more about the North Bay Astronomy Club visit here.

If you have a story idea for “Rooted” send Matt an email at [email protected]   

Reader Feedback

Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
Read more