Meet our night sky experts

Exploring the fascinating world of dark sky preserves with astronomy writer, Peter McMahon
For centuries, man has looked to the heavens for answers. Farmers observed the skies to predict the next harvest. Sailors scanned the stars to find their way home. Astrologers from various cultures studied the movements of galaxies to prophesise the fate of the world.
Scenic’s handcrafted land journeys through Western Canada take you to Jasper National Park, one of the world’s largest dark sky preserves for an exclusive Scenic Enrich experience. Guided by expert astronomers from Jasper Planetarium, and complemented by a delicious twilight supper, it will be one of the most magical experiences of your life.
We met with Jasper Planetarium’s Co-Owner and General Manager, Peter McMahon for an exclusive chat, to gain his insights into the cosmic world and all that he has planned for Scenic guests in 2022. Peter is a multiple award-winning science and space writer, who has authored articles for such publications as Frommer's, Discovery Channel online, Canadian Geographic and numerous astronomy and travel magazines. 

“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters
would be to limit the human spirit.”
- Stephen Hawking

How would you say Jasper Dark Sky Preserve is different from other dark sky preserves?

While there are dozens of dark sky parks across the globe today, Jasper – along with Wood Buffalo National Park to the North – makes up the largest protected dark sky area on Earth. It is an area so large that all the other dark sky preserves in the world could fit inside this region. 

What are some of the highlights of the night that Scenic guests can expect to see?

Distances in space are measured in light-years, or light-minutes in our solar system. Light travels at about 300,000 km/second, so while it is fast, it is not instant. As a result, we're seeing the Moon (which is a little over 300,000 km away) as it appeared one second in the past; Pluto six hours in the past; the nearest star four years in the past; and distant stars dozens or hundreds of years in the past. This means, if there are alien civilizations on planets out there and they looked towards Earth today, they would not see you and me. They would be seeing the building of the Great Pyramids, or farther.

What is your favourite celestial object to view here?

My favourite thing to look at through a powerful telescope is the Hercules Cluster – a group of hundreds of thousands of stars in the direction of the constellation Hercules, the strongman. Through one of our powerful telescopes, the cluster looks like an explosion of stars. At 25,000 light years away, we are seeing this cluster as it appeared during Earth's last Great Ice Age. 

Why should we experience a dark sky preserve at least once in our life?

Light pollution from cities decreases the contrast between the black backdrop of outer space and the faint light of distant stars, galaxies and other objects in deep space. When you get rid of as much of that light pollution as possible, you start to see the cosmos as it was originally seen by pioneers, explorers, and local indigenous civilisations. We rarely get to see the universe beyond our world with our own eyes. Dark sky preserves are places where you know you are going to be able to get that out-of-this-world view, away from modern society.

See more of the pristine Jasper National Park in this video from Travel Presenter David Whitehill

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