How do you communicate space science in Toronto?

(Originally published in Filling Space)

One important way to participate in humanity’s engagement with space is via space science communication. Directly advancing the frontiers of human knowledge as a scientist is important, but new knowledge has a greater impact on society if it is communicated outside specialist circles. Space science communication moreover needs to be tailored to different audiences and contexts, which is why local space science organizations can effectively “democratize” humanity’s engagement with space. To learn more about one such organization, we spoke to Julie Midroni. She is the president of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society at the University of Toronto. She explained what the society does and how she came to lead it.

What is the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society?

The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) is an undergraduate-run organization centered at the University of Toronto. We run a variety of lectures, observation nights, and other events to educate, excite, and inspire people to discover more about our universe. As an organization, we are conscious about the information barrier that prevents science from being accessible to the general public. While informative for individuals of all educational backgrounds, we strive to ensure that anyone can attend, understand, and appreciate our events and lectures. As astronomy and space exploration continue to become more relevant globally and politically, it has become more important for the general public to understand and become involved in the science of space. You can look here to find out more about our events and our organizational mandate, as well as to access recordings of our events.

How did you become involved in the society?

I became involved with ASX during my first year of undergrad studies as a symposium director. Since ASX is a student-run organization, I was elected to the role based on a series of statements I provided. Our symposium is our largest event. It is an annual series of talks, wherein we have speakers from all over the globe travel to Toronto and deliver lectures to a large audience. I was initially in charge of organizing it, and I held that role for two years. After our previous president graduated, I was elected president. I just recently began my second term in this role. This year, the Symposium was held virtually due to COVID-19. You can find lecture recordings and abstracts here.

How can people in the Toronto area get involved?

Students at the University of Toronto can get involved with ASX by joining our executive team! We have elections twice a year, in April and September. While our executive team is restricted to students from the university, anyone who is physically able to travel to campus is welcome to attend our free lectures, viewing nights, and other events. In fact, due to COVID-19, we have transitioned to virtual events and intend to continue with a hybrid platform even after in-person events resume. As such, anyone globally is welcome to tune into any of our talks whenever they would like.

If you want to learn more about our events, please email asxsociety@utoronto.ca so we can add you to our mailing list. Our monthly newsletter details all our upcoming events.

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Apply To Be An ASX Executive

Do you have a passion for all things space? Are you looking to expand your leadership and extracurricular experiences? The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society at U of T is currently recruiting new executive team members for the upcoming year!Available positions and descriptions can be found at:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1l3Obvs47FBbcIQYZmvsx5pu-tuUOSKFhDMJVltI6IbU/edit

To apply, please fill out this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdApXKUtkMI_-YNMMcDHAEgMADBqHHFPqrc_3SrQhr1dP3DSg/viewform

You may apply for a maximum of three positions. For each position, you must write a brief statement (250 word maximum) explaining why you want the role and why you are qualified. The deadline for applications is April 6th at 11:59PM.All applications for each position will be compiled into a google form, and elections for the new executive team will take place during the following window: April 7th, 7PM – April 8th, 11:59PM.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR CERTAIN ROLES

Those running for the position of secretary have at least one nomination from a current ASX member (ie: an individual on our mailing list). Those running for position of vice-president and president must have at least two nominations from current ASX members, and must have already been on the ASX executive team for at least 6 months.Nominations can be emailed to space.society@utoronto.ca.Those running for graphic designer, or photographer must have relevant graphic design/photography/video editing experience. This will be confirmed by the ASX executive team once the elections have concluded. Those without the relevant experience will be unable to take on the role, even if they have won

Those running for the position of secretary have at least one nomination from a current ASX member (ie: an individual on our mailing list).Those running for position of vice-president and president must have at least two nominations from current ASX members, and must have already been on the ASX executive team for at least 6 months.Nominations can be emailed to space.society@utoronto.ca.Those running for graphic designer, or photographer must have relevant graphic design/photography/video editing experience. This will be confirmed by the ASX executive team once the elections have concluded. Those without the relevant experience will be unable to take on the role, even if they have won the election.

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Blog: A history of Canada’s planetariums by Space Place Canada

Ian McLennan narrates his decades-long experience with planetarium development across the country

By Adam A. Lam, Astronomy and Space Exploration Society
McLaughlin Planetarium in 2013. Photo: Brucewaters, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

TORONTO, Ontario — Toronto shuttered its last major planetarium in 1995. From the view of Ian McLennan, a consultant who has seen the rise of planetarium construction across Canada since the 1960s, there is a strong historical basis for the city to build a new one.

“Toronto is a major city in the world, as well as in Canada, and it deserves to have its own major planetarium,” said McLennan at “Northern Lights: When the Planetariums Came to Canada,” a Space Place Canada online event on March 11, 2021.

McLennan’s views are informed by his experience as the first Director of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium in Edmonton, the first planetarium built in the country, and as a consultant for almost 100 public initiatives spanning six continents.

The planetarium ran from 1960 to 1983, and has been designated as a historical landmark by the City of Edmonton, with its doors opening to the public once more after a full restoration in 2021. McLennan recalled his experiences planning the construction of the planetarium — including shipping in a projector from Delaware, producing special effects, and working with a composer to create original music for its events.

McLennan recalls the planetarium’s opening becoming a major success for the city. At its peak in 1967, according to CBC News, the institution “welcomed 33,500 visitors a year.” The planetarium’s popularity, as McLennan noted, directly led to the construction of a new larger facility as a replacement in 1984, now known as the Telus World of Science.

The Telus World of Science has continued to positively impact Edmonton, McLennan noted. McLennan highlighted the planetarium’s programming that references Indigenous astronomy “and many other stories that typically are forgotten in planetariums,” which focus on the traditional education of Greek constellations.

Following the construction of the Queen Elizabeth II planetarium, McLennan narrated the construction of other planetariums across Canada in Calgary, Montreal, and Halifax. Away from Canada, he recalled the emergence of planetariums in major city centres in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Tokyo. “It’s a big planetarium world out there,” he said, with significant interest in public astronomy education at these institutions across the world.

But Toronto, McLennan explained, no longer has a major planetarium in the city. McLaughlin Planetarium, a familiar sight to Torontonians south of the Royal Ontario Museum since 1968, shuttered in 1995. “It was donated to initially to the University of Toronto and then to the Royal Ontario Museum,” he explained, and “featured a very large 23-metre dome and a Zeiss Jena projector” with a space theatre of 340 seats. As the Toronto Star reported, the planetarium welcomed more than six million visitors over its 27-year history.

“But in the end, the planetarium didn’t have as much of a political backing as it might have had,” McLennan said. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) shut down the museum in 1995 in direct response to a cutback of $626,000 cutback imposed by the provincial government at the time, according to the Toronto Star. The ROM later sold the building to the University of Toronto, but it no longer functions as a building to support public outreach in astronomy.

To McLennan, who has seen decades of planetariums construction across the world, the construction of a new planetarium in Canada could be pivotal to communicating the key role of Canada’s astronomers to the public.

“We think that there’s a wonderful story about Canada in astronomy and space,” said McLennan, with a rich history in astronomy research and engineering for space exploration. “A national planetarium that told that story — not in a nationalistic or jingoistic way, but just in a matter of fact way — [could place these contributions] into the larger story of the universe,” he continued.

Toronto is a prime candidate for the location of this planetarium, said McLennan. As the largest city in Canada that attracts visitors from across the world, “it deserves a planetarium that tells part of the national story as well.”

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About Space Place Canada: We are a non-profit, multi-disciplinary group of professionals determined to bring a public planetarium back to Toronto. Toronto is only one of two cities in the world of its size without a major planetarium. This is a critical missing piece of Toronto’s tourism and educational infrastructure. Our key advisors come from across North America and include experts in the design, planning and operating of science centres and planetariums.

About the ASX Society: The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) is an undergraduate-run not-for-profit that has organized public education events with astronomers since 2003. Their next event is named “Archaeoastronomy: The Astronomy of Civilizations Past,” which explores the astronomy of ancient civilizations. Catch the free event on March 24 at 6 pm with details on their Facebook event page.

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Archaeoastronomy: The Astronomy of Civilizations Past

Archaeoastronomy can be defined as “the study of how people in the past have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they have used these phenomena, and what role the sky played in their cultures”. University of Leicester archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles has described it as “a field with academic work of high quality at one end, but uncontrolled speculation bordering on lunacy at the other”. This illustrated, non-technical presentation will highlight examples from both the Old World and the New World. Presenter John Percy is a Professor Emeritus of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and of Science Education at the University of Toronto, and an Associate of the Dunlap Institute. He has a longstanding interest in this and other interdisciplinary aspects of astronomy.The Zoom link will be shared closer to the event date!

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