The UPEI Physics department has a long history of teaching introductory astronomy and providing astronomy outreach dating back almost as long as the institution of UPEI itself.
Do you have any photos of a visit to the UPEI Observatory or Planetarium? If so, we’d love to see them and include them on our website! E-mail them to Megan Glover.
Introductory astronomy was first taught in 1975 and has been taught every year since. Today, two courses are offered to students from all disciplines. Physics 251 – Introductory Astronomy I teaches students about the basics of our night sky and the solar system and Physics 252 – Introductory Astronomy II goes beyond our solar system to discuss stars, black holes, galaxies, and the origin of the universe.
The UPEI Observatory
In the early days of astronomy instruction, the observation facilities available to the students were a bit rough. The department had a 6-inch telescope which was stored in a shed on top of the Duffy Science Building.
For each observation session, the telescope had to be unpacked and set-up on the roof. The viewing location was exposed to the prevailing winds, so dust covers were lost, snow accumulated, and students were probably pretty cold!
Observation facilities improved with the installation of an observation dome (made by Ash Manufacturing) on top of the roof of the newly renovated Memorial Hall. Memorial Hall re-opened in September 1979 and the telescope dome was added in January 1980.
A 14-inch Celestron (Schmidt-Cassegrain) was installed on the dome’s concrete pier and the “UPEI Observatory” was ready for use by August 1980.
In the years since, the UPEI Observatory has welcomed hundreds of visitors and students to view the wonders of the night sky, despite the challenges presented by Charlottetown’s frequently cloudy skies and growing light pollution.
After over 25 years of use, the observatory’s Celestron-14 telescope, whose optics were degrading, was replaced by a brand-new 14-inch Meade RCX400 in 2006.
Due to some troubles with the electronics in our 14-inch Meade telescope, we removed it from the observatory in the summer of 2013. The telescope now in our observatory is a new 8-inch Meade LX80 which was kindly donated to us by Mr. Pat Sinnott, a member of the UPEI Board of Governors.
We continue to work on repairs to our 14-inch Meade as time permits and with any luck we will re-install it in the UPEI Observatory.
The UPEI Planetarium
Islanders over the age of about 30 years may remember that UPEI once had a planetarium
The planetarium consisted of an 18-metre geodesic dome housing the theatre and an attached building with support facilities. Construction began in the fall of 1980 and was finished in time for the first show on July 1 of 1981.
For several years, the planetarium welcomed thousands of guests. It was open in the summer to tourists and the local public and ran special shows during the colder months for school, youth, and community groups. Michelle Cottreau worked at the planetarium during her student days at UPEI. She remembers her job there fondly and wrote: “We had several different shows but my favourite was the one we did for young children called ‘Our Sky Family’. The star projector was nick-named ‘Jake’ and the show began with the sound of snoring. Jake would suddenly wake up and would rise out of the underground well (where the projector was stored) to greet the children and the show began. They loved it!”
However, the facility itself was plagued by maintenance issues. There were temperature control problems with the planetarium being too hot in summer and it leaked whenever it rained. The planetarium fell into disuse in the late 1980s and after a pipe burst in the winter of 1989, the university decided to remove it from campus. A crane dismantled the planetarium and it eventually found its way to a new home at an amusement park in Stanley Bridge.
(Much of the early history of UPEI Astronomy was sourced from this article by former astronomy instructor and physics department chair Earl Wonnacott)