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Northern skies exhibit opens at Prince of Wales
Astronomy North display highlights, wonders of Arctic night sky

Peter Varga
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, July 3, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Astronomy North opened an exhibit from out of this world at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre late last month.

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James Pugsley of Astronomy North demonstrates the AuroraMax simulator at the opening of the Legendary Sky Exhibit at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre on June 24. - Peter Varga/NNSL photo

The Legendary Sky Exhibit showcases a work of art commissioned by De Beers Canada which features a diamond taken into space last year by Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.

Unveiled at the exhibit's opening on Thursday, the sculpture heralds the end of the diamond's journey from the depths of the Earth, into orbit, and return home for a place in the museum's permanent collection.

The diamond's spectacular story and its placement in the sculpture includes elements of geology, physics, space technology, and Northern culture. It is the centrepiece of a display that describes Astronomy North's Legendary Sky Project an initiative to collect and document knowledge of the Northern sky.

"We're essentially creating a single resource centre where you can learn about the Northern sky," said

James Pugsley, president of Astronomy North.

Over the next four years, the project will compile information for schools in communities throughout the territory, said Pugsley, to tailor learning of astronomy and the skies in a way that makes it relevant to Northerners. Mainstream textbooks on astronomy, he said, fall short in that they follow European knowledge and learning, and illustrate the sky from the perspective of southern Canada.

"We want to change that, we want a Northern sky there," he said. "Let's make sure the kid in Tuktoyaktuk has an equal opportunity to learn about the sky in his community."

The territory's diverse population makes the project all the more important, he said, and an understanding of the sky doesn't end with scientific explanation, which is why the project includes a cultural component.

"We have many different people who live up here now," said Pugsley. "The Dene tell many different stories about the sky. The Inuit have many different star names than Europeans who've come over. The truth is, those who were here before the Europeans had a completely different knowledge of the heavens."

Set up in the Aviation Gallery of the museum, the Legendary Sky Exhibit includes an expose on the story of the space diamond and space shuttle program that took it into space; displays on the importance of astronomy in Northern cultures; and an interactive display on telescopes; and perhaps the greatest attraction a Northern lights simulator.

The simulator is a product of another Astronomy North project called AuroraMax. Undertaken in association with the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Calgary and the City of Yellowknife, the project monitors the Northern lights from Yellowknife, and offers opportunities for the public to view and learn more about them when the phenomenon reaches peak activity in 2013.

With the use of a giant screen and interactive animated displays, the simulator illustrates how the sun creates Northern lights activity in the night sky. Viewers get a wide-screen perspective on the entire phenomenon as it happens on the sun, in space, at the Earth's upper atmosphere, and how the phenomenon is seen from the Earth's surface in Yellowknife.

"It will allow young people to look at the cause and effect relationship between the sun and the earth, and learn how solar wind leads to auroras on earth," said Pugsley.

The Northern phenomenon will figure highly in the Legendary Sky Project, which will also allow non-Northerners throughout the country to learn about the sky from the perspectives North of 60.

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