Solar Viewing at AVC Open House 2022 – CANCELLED

UPDATE: This event has been cancelled due to the closure of the UPEI campus as a result of the storm Fiona.

The Department of Physics is going to participate in the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) Open House once again, but this time instead of setting up a table with physics activities indoors, we’re going to bring our solar telescopes.

Our solar telescopes: (left) a hydrogen-alpha telescope, that allows us to observe the sun’s chromosphere by looking at only the red light emitted by excited hydrogen; (right) a white-light “Sunspotter” that projects and image of the sun’s photosphere, allowing us to observe sunspots.

On Saturday, October 1, from 10:00am to 2:00pm, we’ll be set up outside the north end of the AVC building with our hydrogen-alpha and white-light solar telescopes so that you can observe different features of the sun, our nearest star. We’ll also have a few activities related to the sun and sunlight for you to try.

If it’s too cloudy, we won’t be able to view the sun, so we won’t set up anything. However, the rest of the AVC Open House will still be running with lots of fun, interesting activities for people of all ages.

Solar Viewings – August 2022

UPDATE: August 25 viewing CANCELLED due to cloudy weather

UPDATE: August 18 viewing CANCELLED due to cloudy weather

UPDATE: August 11 viewing CANCELLED due to cloudy weather

We are back for public viewings! It was winter of 2020 that we last had an event at our observatory and August of 2019 when we last had a viewing with our solar telescope. We plan to return to events at the observatory in the fall, but during these long summer days we’ll make use of our solar telescope set up on the ground.

View of H-alpha solar telescope
Our H-alpha solar telescope

For these viewings, we’ll have our hydrogen-alpha solar telescope set up, which will let you view the atmosphere of the sun safely. We’ll also have our new “Sunspotter” telescope set up, which will let you see any sunspots on the sun’s surface via a projected image.

Our new “Sunspotter” telescope projects an image of the sun on to a white screen, showing any sunspots present on the sun’s surface.

We’re tentatively scheduling solar viewings for every Thursday in August, 12-1pm on the UPEI campus. These events are weather dependent, so this post will be updated if we have to cancel due to cloudy weather.

  • August 4 – Successful viewing with over 30 people attending.
  • August 11 – CANCELLED due to cloudy weather
  • August 18 – CANCELLED due to cloudy weather
  • August 25 – CANCELLED due to cloudy weather

The telescope will be set-up outside of the FSDE building. That’s building 30 on the campus map. The nearest parking lot is the MacLauchlan Arena parking lot.

View of the FSDE building.
The solar telescope will be set up outside the main entrance to the FSDE building (the doors opposite the entrance to MacLauchlan Arena).
The solar viewing event will be held outside the entrance of the FSDE building (indicated by orange star on the map). Parking is available in UPEI Lots D & E and the MacLauchlan Arena lot.

The Earl L. Wonnacott Observatory

This plaque was installed in our observatory to recognize its dedication to the memory of Professor Wonnacott.

The Department of Physics is pleased to announce that our observatory will now be known as The Earl L. Wonnacott Observatory. The naming of the observatory in honour of Professor Wonnacott recognizes his role in establishing the facility and using it to further physics and astronomy education on PEI. Professor Wonnacott’s role in astronomy education at UPEI is described on the “Our History” page of this site.

The fall of 2020 marks 40 years since the first visits of students and members of the public to the observatory and also 1 year since the passing of Earl Wonnacott. The Department of Physics felt that those anniversaries made the fall of 2020 an appropriate time for the dedication. However, due to restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our planned dedication ceremony has had to be postponed until a time when it can be held safely.

Professor Earl L. Wonnacott stands in front of the observatory structure before it is lifted to the roof of Memorial Hall by crane on January 8, 1980.

We are currently unable to host viewing events at our observatory because of public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. It’s not possible for people to keep two metres apart in a building that is only about 2.5 metres in diameter. When social distancing measures and other event restrictions ease and it safe to do so, we will once again welcome visitors to look through the telescope at The Earl L. Wonnacott Observatory.

Until that day arrives, please take a virtual visit to our observatory via a video compiled by CBC Prince Edward Island.

Public Lecture: Winds of Change Around Black Holes

As part of the 2020 CAP (Canadian Association of Physicists) Lecture Tour, UPEI Department of Physics will be hosting Professor Gregory R. Sivakoff from the University of Alberta who will give a lecture entitled: “Winds of Change Around Black Holes.” The lecture will be held on Friday, February 7, from 2:30-3:30 pm in room 104 of the Health Sciences Building (building number 3 on the UPEI campus map). The target audience for the lecture is undergraduate students of physics (so some knowledge of fundamental physics will be assumed by the lecturer); however we welcome anyone who has an interest in the topic to attend.

An abstract of the lecture and a brief biography of the lecturer are provided below (text sourced from the CAP website).

Winds of Change Around Black Holes

Abstract: Accretion disks, where matter with angular momentum spirals down through a disk, occur around objects ranging from the youngest stars to supermassive black holes. But not all of this material reaches the center of the disk. Instead, some material is accelerated away from the disk. These outflows can be ejected in a narrow opening angle (what astronomers call “jets”) or can be relatively unfocused (what astronomers call “winds”). While we do not know the precise processes that accelerate and collimate winds and jets, magnetic fields almost certainly play a key role. My team and I study black hole X-ray binaries, stellar-mass black holes accreting from a nearby star. We combine observations across the electromagnetic spectrum to learn about the physics of accretion and jets. In this talk, I will discuss how we have revealed two new windows onto the physics of inflows and outflows in X-ray binaries: fast variability measured across the
electromagnetic spectrum (which provides the potential to accurately identify the accretion physics that launch relativistic jets) and the modelling of changes in the X-ray brightness of black hole X-ray binaries (which implies that strong winds from the accretion disk are universal). With the advent of new and upcoming facilities, we have a huge potential to take advantage of these winds of change in the next decade.

Dr. Gregory Sivakoff (photograph via University of Alberta)

Biography: Dr. Gregory Sivakoff is currently an Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Physics, where he has been a faculty member since 2011. He and his group’s primary research focuses on multi-wavelength observations of compact objects (white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes), tying together a wide range of data to better probe important physics around compact objects. These multiwavelength observations stretch across nearly the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and are made by facilities across the world and above it. Two classes of objects stand out among the wide range of compact objects he studies: X-ray binaries, neutron stars or black holes that accrete material from a nearby donor star; and the relativistic outflows (jets) from supermassive black holes that are responsible for (at least some) astrophysical neutrinos that have recently been detected. Dr. Sivakoff also has strong interests in Education & Public Outreach; in addition to his multiple pop-culture inspired public talks like, “Black Holes and Revelations” and “Fantastic Black Holes and How to Find Them”, he is a strong advocate of citizen science. This support includes sitting on the board of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, an international non-profit organization of variable star observers whose mission is to enable anyone, anywhere, to participate in scientific discovery through variable star astronomy. In 2018 he was selected as the inaugural Telus World of Science Edmonton Science Fellow, which recognizes an outstanding researcher or innovator based in Northern Alberta, and was the recipient of the University of Alberta Faculty of Science Research Award.

January 2020 Public Viewing – CANCELLED

UPDATE (2:30PM January 25): Due to unforeseen circumstances, the public viewing this evening is cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience and disappointment to anyone who was planning to attend.


Our next public event will take place from 6:30-8:30 pm on Saturday, January 25 (weather permitting). Everyone is welcome to drop by to have a look through our telescope.

The meeting spot for this event is room 417 of Memorial Hall (get directions and parking information). Depending on how many people are attending, you may have to wait a bit for your turn to go up to the telescope.

To access the observatory, it is necessary to be able to climb a set of stairs over one storey in height.

The observatory is unheated, so you bring clothing that is warm enough to permit you to stand in outdoor temperatures for at least 20 minutes. (The waiting room is indoors and heated.)

If the sky is cloudy on the night of the event, the viewing may have to be cancelled. This post will be updated if there are any changes to the event status.