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culture

In Honour of the First Cosmonaut, a Toronto-Centric Celebration of Spaceflight

Yuri's Night, a yearly commemoration of the first-ever manned spaceflight, is tonight.

An image of Toronto as seen from the International Space Station, taken by Commander Chris Hadfield on January 19.

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s—it’s, well, it’s the sky. And tonight, people around the world are getting together to celebrate everything that’s in it, as part of Yuri’s Night.

Named after Yuri Gagarin, the Russian astronaut, Yuri’s Night is a evening devoted to celebrating accomplishments in space. It happens on April 12, which, this year, is the 52nd anniversary of the day Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. The occasion is observed in places as diverse as Toronto (of course), Afghanistan, Antarctica, and even the International Space Station. In total, 60 countries will participate this year.

Party headquarters in Toronto will be Hotel Ocho, where there will be 1960s-themed cocktails, a Lego spaceship competition, lectures from space experts, space stand-up, and, naturally, space tunes. (Maybe they’ll play the recent duet between BNL’s Ed Robertson and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield?) Tickets are $20 each, and can be purchased on the event’s website.

With all this fanfare over space exploration, we decided to see what other intergalactic/planetary action is happening right here in Toronto, throughout the year.

For starters, all three of Toronto’s major newspapers are out of this world. We’ve got the Sun, the Star, and the Globe (which more or less confirms that Toronto is the centre of the universe).

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is based in Toronto. Founded in 1868, it’s the largest astronomy society in Canada, and it has plenty of events going on, including trips to Algonquin Provincial Park for stargazing in September. It hosts monthly Dark Sky Star Parties and Clear Sky Star Parties, weather dependent.

Toronto has several planetariums and observatories, all of which are accessible to the public:

  • The University of Toronto’s small planetarium does shows on the third Tuesday of every month for $5 (the next one is on April 18). There are also free tours the first Thursday of every month.
  • York University has free viewing sessions at its observatory, as well as online viewing sessions and a radio show.
  • Of course, the Ontario Science Centre not only has a planetarium, but a whole wing all about space.
  • Up in Richmond Hill is the David Dunlap Observatory, the largest Canadian optical telescope in its class. It hosts viewings and lectures.

There are other planetariums and observatories that aren’t in use:

  • The Royal Ontario Museum’s McLaughlin Planetarium closed in 1995 because of budget cuts.
  • The University of Toronto’s Student Union building, just a few blocks from the ROM, is in what used to be the Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory. It was built back in 1840 and is considered the “birthplace of Canadian astronomy and the country’s oldest scientific institution.”

In May, Dr. John Percy will give a tour of Toronto’s astronomical heritage as part of Doors Open. If you can’t make it, he has another talk in June.

Think you’re cut out for NASA? Next weekend, the ROM hosts the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, which is a weekend hack-a-thon where teams complete NASA-designed challenges to do really, really complex space-science things. It’s free to participate, and teams from around the world are competing.

Looking for a crash course in astronomy? The Ontario Science Centre and RASC periodically offer an eight-week program for astronomy novices. It’s called NOVA.

At the end of May, the first-ever Canadian Astronomy Telescope Show hits Oakville. But if you can’t wait, you can head over to Khan Scope Centre, on Dufferin Street just south of the 401. (Its website points out that it is “located directly across from Aren’t We Naughty, and you cannot miss that!” No telescope necessary.)

Ever wonder what Canadians eat in space? Maple syrup cream cookies! We bet they taste great with astronaut ice cream.

If you’d like to visit space yourself, head over to the Intergalactic Travel Authority, on Bloor Street West. Grab yourself a planet-themed espresso drink to prepare for take off, before hopping through the space portal. Blast off!


CORRECTION: 3:53 PM This post originally identified Canada’s largest astronomy society as the Royal Canadian Aerospace Society; it is actually named the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. It also misspelled the name of the Dunlap Observatory.

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