Sky gazing in the Outaouais region
" The sky is an infinite movie to me. I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there. "
As a kid, one item showed up every year on my list to Santa : a telescope. And every year, santa brought me plenty, but no telescope. After a while, I came to accept that his elves where terrible in physics and optical sciences and that they just couldn’t build one worth anything.
Apparently, the bearded guy pitied me and the first year I didn’t put it on my list (in my early thirties), a huge box appeared under the tree and once its wrapping removed, I saw it contained what I had dreamed of all these years : a telescope.
I’m far from being an expert astronomer. But I do know the sky a bit and I can identify several celestials bodies in a glimpse. I know enough to know that a good session of stargazing needs preparations. Here are some of the aspects to consider:
- The presence or absence of clouds (duh!).
- The presence or absence of the Moon. Yup! She’s beautiful to look at but if you’re into stars and planets, she might outshine them.
- The horizon : you want it low. Too many mountains or trees will block a part of your view and you might miss lower celestial bodies. A plateau or summit is the ideal location.
- The distance from the city. City lights will create interference with the darkness you seek.
- The time of year : like the Earth, the stars and planets follow an orbit (often much, much bigger than ours) and their place in the cosmos is not fixed. For example, the constellation Orion is only visible in the winter time the Northern Hemisphere and Saturn is more visible in the middle of the summer, late at night.
Keep in mind that at night, temperatures drop so bring warm clothes, a thermos of something comforting to drink, snacks, a chair or blanket (this activity requires patience and you might be there a while. Might as well get comfy), and a flashlight.
As the Perseids are approaching (at their best in the night from August 12 to 13, between 2 :30am and 5 :00am), I made you a list of some of my favorite places to watch the sky (though there are many more) as well as music I recommend listening to as you’re looking up. I don’t have a camera so the pictures aren’t mine and I wasn’t able to find a lot that showed the starry Outaouais sky so you’ll have to go see for yourselves!
Rang Bruno, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix
From Montebello, drive 18-19 kilometres on Route 323 until you reach Rang Bruno. Take a left on that road and park somewhere in the field. You’ll see that all the potential obstacles (mountains, trees) are quite far away and you have a lot of sky to look at. It’s also located on a plateau, creating breathtaking sunsets because of the way the light is refracted, because of the altitude or something like that. Or so I’m told.
Cross Loop Road, Gatineau Park, Chelsea
In winter, it’s quite easy. Reach P15 (and with the new exit fro Cross Loop Road off Hwy 5, it’s super easy!), park, and contemplate. P15 doesn’t exist in the summer time so from the exit, drive 2 km on Cross Loop Road and before reaching the covered bridge, you’ll notice an opening in the fence along the road. There are a few hills around but the horizon is low so you feel alone in a wide open place. Perfect!
- Astronomie, Avec pas d’casque.
MacLaren Cemetary, Wakefield
Behind the Wakefield Mill is a cemetery on a hill (where Lester B. Pearson is buried, by the way). It is high enough and though there are a few hilltops and trees to the North, the view it gives to the South is interesting because it is precisely to the South that Saturn is visible in the summer months (Jupiter, Mars, and Venus are easier to see year-round but Saturn likes the heat, it seems.)
- Meddle, Pink Floyd.
Meech Lake (Blanchet Beach), Gatineau Park, Chelsea
Yes, there is a mountain right across the road leading there but the reflections of the Moon in the lake are a sight to see. But this place scores major points for the view to the North and Northeast, which is where you want to be looking when the Sun has a tantrum and blast particles in our atmospheres, creating Aurora Borealis (Northern lights). Natural Resources Canada publishes its space weather predictions on its site. Go have a look to know the best times to see them!
- Valtari, Sigur Rós
So that’s it! If you any other places in the region perfect for watching the stars, let me know. I’d be happy to discover your neck of the woods! And remember to visit www.outaouaistourism.com for more ideas of things to do in the region. And follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram … remember our hashtag, #outaouaisfun.
Cover photo credit: Annie Langlois