Youth attending the Terrace Public Library’s summer reading club last Wednesday were given the opportunity to do something their parents might have traditionally taught them to avoid: They were encouraged to look directly at the sun.
Jamie Purves, an educator with the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, visited the library here last week with his solar telescope, a piece of equipment that allowed youth ages three through 11 to safely observe the sun and learn more about the wonders of space.
“I think it’s important because I think it inspires kids to think of science as something that’s cool and interesting and possibly a career choice,” Purves said. “I think that’s really the key to what we’re doing here.”
The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is a non-profit organization that seeks to inspire people and educate them on the wonders of space science, exploration and the universe at large.
Purves has been touring First Nations communities as well as cities across northern B.C. to spread the organization’s message.
Besides Terrace, he has also presented to summer reading clubs and groups in Burns Lake, Smithers, Hazelton, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Kitimat and other communities along the route from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
The youth at the library’s summer reading club were in the middle of a space-themed week when Purves came and showed them why scientists are endlessly fascinated by space.
He taught them about exoplanets in far-off solar systems, the International Space Station, and explained what someone might see if they were to venture off into space.
He also discussed the roles of Canadian astronauts, such as Chris Hadfield, and their roles in the exploration of space.
“The neat thing about space is that every time you look out there, if you look hard, you see something that just blows your mind,” Purves said, explaining the enthusiasm behind his presentation and the affinity youth have for space.
During the grand finale of Purves’ presentation, he gave youth the opportunity to look through a solar telescope to catch a rare glimpse of the sun’s surface.
Purves set the telescope up outside the library and youth lined up to have a look.
“It filters out almost all of the radiation and light, except for a very narrow bandwidth called the hydrogen alpha spectrum, and that shows the features on the outer surface,” Purves said.
The sun looked reddish-orange while observing it through the telescope. A closer look revealed a black spot on the image, something that Purves explained was actually a sun spot or a cluster of sun spots.
He also said it was common to see solar flares through the telescope.
Although the presentation was intended for youth, it drew adults and parents alike who happened to be at the library at the time and who joined the activity and lined up to participate.
“It allows you to do something safely that you can’t normally do,” Purves said.
“People are amazed, actually, to be able to see the surface of the sun. They’re totally amazed.”
The library’s summer reading club provides activities for Terrace youth and encourages them to be active readers over the summer months.
The reading club is intended for children, though this year there has also been up to 17 teenage volunteers working to make the club a success.
A wrap-up party is scheduled Aug. 23 for the youth and volunteer participants of this year’s club.