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New urban observatory in the works for Ralph Klein Park

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Talks are still underway, but if the Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) has it's way, Ralph Klein Park in the city’s deep southeast will be home to Alberta’s first urban public observatory.

"It's going to be the home of astronomy in Calgary," said Robyn Foret, past RASC president.

"Calgary Parks has been wonderful to work with. We are still going through the process. We hope this will be our site. It is ideal – it's at the south end of the city's skies and we can see horizon to horizon all around us. It's a wonderful spot."

The RASC has been fundraising for years and just received a grant from the provincial government for $125,000.

"It's about half of what we expect to spend on the facility itself," said Foret.

"It's modest, but it's in a public setting, it's got a steel building and has to be robust. It has to stand the test of time. We're all very, very excited about it."

Simon Poole is the current president of the Calgary Centre of the RASC and enjoys watching people discover all the night sky has to offer.

He says it's a gateway science because it touches on physics, chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics, computer sciences and stretches into many fields of social sciences.

He says learning astronomy at a young age opens many doors to the future.

"We want to give kids and adults the opportunity to see Saturn and its rings for the first time," said Poole.

"To see star clusters, to see nebula, to see all manner of great things in the night sky."

The society is celebrating its 65th anniversary in Calgary this year and has 600 members.

It used to organize public night viewings with its telescopes at the old Centennial Planetarium, which became TELUS Spark.

But the Centennial Planetarium closed in 2011.

The society is still able to host events south of the city at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory but space and time with its telescope is limited.

With a new observatory of its own, the society says it can run its public programs that Calgarians have missed over the years.

"Just to give you an idea of the demand," said Foret.

"When we did a public star night here, when this park first opened, we had over 800 people show up. We were open for three hours and you know, it was wonderful to see that kind of turnout."

The most important pieces of an observatory are its telescopes.

The society saved its old eight-inch refracting telescope from the planetarium.

"Bill Peters was the director of that facility, who's still very involved in the astronomical community and designing observatories around the world and working in consulting in that regard," said Foret.

"He built that telescope and he's donated it to us, so it will be our signature instrument at this new observatory."

Right now, Peters is refurbishing the telescope that will have a moveable platform beneath it to make it accessible for people of all abilities.

The society hopes to break ground on the project this year.

Learn more about the RASC at calgary.rasc.ca.

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