Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration: Come Celebrate Dark Skies

Posted on: September 4, 2018

Boreal waterways tempting the paddler, aspen groves blazing golden in autumn, music festivals and craft breweries, illuminating historical sites and cultural experiences: The Lakeland offers a genuine feast of varied on-the-ground (and on-the-water) enticements. But our region’s treasures aren’t by any means confined to terra firma: We’re also one of those increasingly rare places in North America where one can experience the night sky in its full, primal glory — especially at the Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration.

On Saturday, September 15th, you can get a taste for that primal glory at Lakeland Provincial Recreation Area, where the 2nd Annual Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration will draw stargazers in for a fun, educational celebration of our pristine heavens. And that astronomical soiree also serves as something of a skywatching appetizer course, because the long nights of our upcoming Lakeland winter offer some of the best Northern Lights viewing anywhere!

The Lakeland Dark Sky Preserve

In 2017, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) formally recognized Lakeland Provincial Park and Lakeland Provincial Recreation Area as a Dark Sky Preserve. Such a designation reflects the lack of visible artificial light in a given location’s night skies—and that location’s dedication to promoting the reduction of light pollution in both its hinterland and more generally to the visiting public.

Light pollution has become a major issue in Canada and beyond as “skyglow” and other light emissions from urban and industrial areas brighten the night and blot out the earthbound view of most stars and planets, not to mention that great celestial garland of our Milky Way galaxy. Not only does artificial light pollution diminish our appreciation of the universe beyond our big blue ball of a planet, but it also can negatively impact ecosystems, not least nocturnal critters.

The 590-square-kilometre expanse of the Lakeland Provincial Park and Provincial Recreation Area, much of it mixed wood backcountry, fosters some truly spellbinding starlight. Camping out in the Lakeland, it can be hard to retire to the sleeping bag, so magnificent is the celestial show going on after sundown. It’s an after-hours spectacle you won’t soon forget: a spectacle that’ll reawaken that ancient sense of awe with which humans have perceived the night sky for thousands of years, and with which many city-dwellers around the world are sadly unacquainted these days.

The 2018 Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration

Enjoy that ancient spectacle—flickering stars, fiery planets, the ghostly belt of the Milky Way, perhaps the flashy flare-out of a meteor—this September 15th at the Lakeland Provincial Recreation Area’s Pinehurst Lake Campground, H.Q. for this year’s Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration.

The climax of the event, of course, goes down after dark, but there’s plenty of delightful lead-up in the afternoon and early evening. Beginning at 4 PM, the Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration kicks off with face-painting, rocket-building, and other family-friendly activities, plus some good old-fashioned hot dog roasting. From 5 to 6:30 PM, meanwhile, you can get an up-close and personal look at our home star courtesy of a solar-viewing telescope interpreted by astronomer Jean-Pierre De Villiers. Afterward, gather around the campfire for some traditional storytelling shared by an elder with the Lac La Biche Canadian Native Friendship Center.

As that delicious autumn dusk deepens, De Villiers will provide festivalgoers with a crash course in basic astronomy and cosmology to whet the appetite for what’s to come. Beginning around 9 PM, you’ll have a telescope and astronomy binoculars at your disposal for admiring the twinkling firmament: all the more brilliant given the waxing crescent moon of that night won’t be offering much masking glare.

Northern Lights Prime Time

Few sights on Earth are so mesmerizing (and “otherworldly”) as a night sky flickering and pulsing with the vivid colours of the Northern Lights: the aurora borealis (“dawn of the north”). The Lakeland is a magnificent stage for these ethereal rays, and the luxuriously long and frequently crystal-clear nights of winter consistently provide the best viewing opportunities.

What exactly are the Northern Lights? Auroras derive from the “solar wind”—a wash of charged particles, or plasma, flowing from the sun through the solar system—interacting with the Earth’s upper atmosphere. As the Northern Lights Centre explains, our planet’s magnetic field is weakest at the poles, where more of those charged particles can enter the upper atmosphere and collide with its gas particles. The “excitement” of those particles generates the greens, yellows, blues, and reds of the Northern Lights (or, in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Lights).

Here in the Lakeland, we’ve got two basic things going for us when it comes to the Northern Lights: (1) our northerly latitude, placing us nicely within the prime aurora-viewing zone; and (2) those magnificently dark night skies of ours, which give full rein to that solar-wind-provoked radiance.

World-Class Stargazing & Aurora Viewing in the Lakeland

From the year-round grandeur of wheeling constellations and planetary transits to epic aurora extravaganzas, our gorgeous swath of Alberta puts the dazzle back in the night sky. Come experience that dazzle—and don’t miss the 2nd Annual Lakeland Dark Sky Celebration for the perfect introduction!

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