Tired of moun­tains? New Jasper Plan­e­tar­ium of­fers stars

Calgary Herald - - CITY - BILL MAH

Jasper has al­ways en­ticed tourists with the al­lure of moun­tains, but a new ven­ture in the town prom­ises an ex­pe­ri­ence that takes trav­ellers even higher.

The Jasper Plan­e­tar­ium, open­ing June 29, will of­fer in­ter­ac­tive, dig­i­tal Jasper- cen­tric as­tron­omy shows pro­jected onto a domed ceil­ing and views through what’s touted as the largest te­le­scope in the Rock­ies. Staff will guide visi­tors through the night sky out­side the plan­e­tar­ium or far­ther into the park. It also of­fers daily views of the sun through spe­cial so­lar tele­scopes.

But the big­gest ques­tion man­ager and as­tronomer- in- res­i­dence Peter McMa­hon says he gets is, “There’s a plan­e­tar­ium in Jasper?” It’s not as un­likely as it seems. Jasper Na­tional Park was of­fi­cially de­clared a dark- sky pre­serve by the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety of Canada in 2011 and it hosts a dark sky fes­ti­val ev­ery Oc­to­ber. The idea came up dur­ing last year’s fes­ti­val.

“We all looked around and said there re­ally is a mar­ket for this, and not just for as­tron­omy nerds, but what I call po­lar fleece stargaz­ers,” said McMa­hon, who also runs a sim­i­lar plan­e­tar­ium in On­tario.

Tourism op­er­a­tors Sundog Tour Co. and Jasper Raft Tours bought a pro­jec­tor and an in­flat­able dome to launch the Jasper Plan­e­tar­ium in an out­door court­yard of the Mar­mot Lodge, on Jasper’s main street.

“Es­sen­tially, we’ve got what amounts to a small ver­sion of what you would see in Telus World of Science in Ed­mon­ton or Telus Spark in Cal­gary.

“It’s tech­ni­cally sim­i­lar, sort of, but on a much smaller scale.”

The domed plan­e­tar­ium is an in­flat­able fab­ric struc­ture about six me­tres across and can fit 35 peo­ple in­side.

It’s cov­ered by a tent to pro­tect it from the el­e­ments.

Shows, which are 35 min­utes and cost $ 29 for adults, will fo­cus on the sky from a Jasper per­spec­tive. First Na­tions con­stel­la­tions will also be fea­tured.

McMa­hon said the plan­e­tar­ium will take Jasper’s grow­ing dark- sky tourism of­fer­ings to a new, daily and year- round level. Many tour op­er­a­tors have al­ready pre- booked the fa­cil­ity, he said.

PETER MCMA­HON

The Jasper Plan­e­tar­ium will show Jasper- ori­ented space pro­gram­ming in­side an in­flat­able dome start­ing June 29.

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