June 19, 2019

Day or night, Rothney Astrophysical Observatory invites researchers and citizen scientists to learn more about the universe

UCalgary Across Alberta: RAO honours National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21
Students from a rural junior high school tour the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory on May 29.

Students from a rural junior high school tour the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Late on a quiet evening in the country, a procession of vehicles snakes its way up a long driveway. Drivers park along the side of the gravel road, and people of all ages spill out and take the last few steps to a spot overlooking the Alberta foothills.   

The buildings on the hilltop, dark against the night sky, are their destination.


This is the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO) and it’s run by the University of Calgary. The facility is on the traditional lands of the Stoney-Nakoda and Blackfoot Nations.

Every year, hundreds of people visit the RAO, on special evenings called Milky Way Nights, to look into the sky and learn about the moon, the planets, the stars and the galaxies beyond.

What many may not know is that the Rothney is also a busy place when it’s light out. By day, yellow buses stream up the hill and deposit their passengers at the centre, so classrooms from all over southern Alberta can come to learn about astronomy and science.

There is a special daytime program at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory on July 20 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. Registration is required for this event.

The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

On a typical spring day, the RAO is bustling, crowded with a Grade 9 class from Holy Cross in southeast Calgary, curious to learn more about what’s going on above their heads. 

  • There is a special daytime program on July 20 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. This is a ticketed event.

The people who visit the Rothney today may use different, modern scientific equipment to follow the sun and the stars, but for thousands of years, people have relied on the sky to help them find their way, and to mark time and share stories related to the movement of the stars and the earth below.

Jennifer Howse is the director of educational programs at RAO. She manages the school programs, and she recently took time out of her schedule to talk about the importance of summer solstice and Indigenous skylore, the latter of which will become a regular element in school programming later this year.

June is National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day is on June 21. Learn more about how UCalgary is Indigenizing ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being through  ii’ taa’poh’to’p, our Indigenous Strategy.

Do you have a project in mind to help the vision of ii’ taa’poh’to’p? Students, faculty and staff can apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to Indigenize and decolonize our campus. Deadline is June 30. 

Look up to the Skies