TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Wawanesa School Grade 11 student Cassie Power and math and science teacher Paul Friesen check out the school telescope on Wednesday in advance of the unveiling of the new shed and concrete stand for the telescope scheduled for Wednesday evening.
Wawanesa School has joined a rare group of educational institutions that have their own research-grade telescope, thanks to key financial donors and some persistence from a local group.
The school unveiled the telescope, which was once used at Brandon University’s observatory on top of McMaster Hall, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house yesterday.
The telescope will significantly boost the science curriculum in the village south east of Brandon with a population of more than 500 people.
Light pollution from Brandon’s street lights can cause problems for those trying to use this type of telescope within city limits, which is one of the reasons Brandon University has obtained new equipment with the technology upgrades needed to work around those issues. Wawanesa has considerably fewer street lights in operation, and as the community sits in a valley, the old telescope’s new location is quite suitable to see planets, stars and other sights not visible to the naked eye.
"With some experience with a telescope, I am guessing the conditions down there are vary favourable for seeing fine details on the planets or the moon," said Austin Gulliver, a Brandon University physics and astronomy professor.
"If you get a temperature inversion, where the warmer air sits on the cooler air in the valley, you get low air turbulence. The conditions could be unusually good and the optics this telescope provides will do justice to this kind of location."
While the telescope in Wawanesa has more manual moving parts than more modern equipment, it has simple parts and can be easily operated by those with proper training.
Paul Friesen, a math and science teacher at Wawanesa School, said the telescope would be available for community use as well as other school programs and students who have an interest in astronomy.
Friesen said an Internet search has not located any other high school in Canada that has this level of equipment, which enhances the school’s ability to get people hooked on science.
"Astronomy itself is a beautiful science and it’s something the public is able to appreciate and follow," Gulliver said.
"So in the same way you saw photographs that have come to us for decades using the Hubble telescope, you can get with your own eye and take beautiful pictures of the skies."
The telescope, measured as having 15-inch mirror and weighs several hundred pounds, needed to be fixed to a permanent structure, so a group of Wawanesa residents had to raise $10,000 for a concrete stand and a shed with a removable roof to house the prized piece of scientific technology.
Gulliver said the telescope had been placed on top of McMaster Hall 40 years ago and was used extensively for 35 years as a research and teaching tool for thousands of people.
"For example, when Mars came particularly close to us, we had hundreds of people from the Brandon community up to view it," Gulliver said.
Gulliver said it would not surprise him if there was at least another 40 years worth of work in that telescope given its construction and it offers the chance for people to experience the beauty of space from Earth.
Friesen said it was tough to find funding for the required infrastructure, and it was the Canadian Space Agency funding that encouraged other organizations like the Brandon and Area Community Foundation to get involved. The delay in fundraising was actually a fortunate break, as the area of the schoolyard originally chosen to house the telescope would have been affected by the 2011 flood of the Souris River.
The new location is behind the village’s permanent dike.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 20, 2012