Free, Kid-Friendly & Nerd-Approved: The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory In Kaleden

You know those old black and white clips of the Beatles when they pan to the crowd and it’s just a pile of cardigan and bobby-sock-sporting girls completely losing their minds? Think Outkast’s 2003 chart-destroying Hey Ya video, a spoof on those old clips, when the announcer mentions Andre 3000’s name. Lipstick’d mouths agape, shrieking at decibels no one knew the human vocal chords could replicate. It’s the sort of scene you expect when a rock star makes an appearance, or maybe a movie star like Brad Pitt or Ryan Reynolds. You might expect a few people in the crowd to melt down like this if Tom Brady showed his perfectly chiselled athlete’s build in a room full of desperate housewives, and you know what? I’d be willing to bet a tear or two would be shed by a few wand-wielding honorary Hufflepuffs in the presence of the impressive J.K. Rowling.

Myself, I wouldn’t share the enthusiasm in these situations. Though my heart swells singing along to Eleanor Rigby and I consider Andre 3000 to be one of the best entertainers of my lifetime; I wouldn’t mind (at all) shaking Brad Pitt’s hand, nor Ryan Reynolds’; I might go a little doe-eyed at Mr. Brady himself and of course, in the presence of J.K. Rowling, I would likely bombard her with questions until the po-po were called.

But to lose my mind?

My friends, that would take a science man (or woman). I would have shed tears in the presence of Carl Sagan and would likely lose my ability to speak if I ever got to meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Chris Hadfield would render me a completely useless pile of joy. Hank Green or Bill Nye? I might even lose consciousness.

I’m a nerdy nerd. A very nerdy, nerdy nerd. I got more excited about a recent pub trivia night than I did about seeing Slayer live last May. The NFB is my favourite movie producer and I’d go see Noam Chomsky talk from the nosebleeds sooner than I’d take front-row tickets to an NHL game.

I wasn’t always this way, though. My love of learning and knowledge and wonder came much later in life. I wish I’d realized sooner how much fun learning can be and so it’s become one of my most important goals as a mother now, to cultivate a love of learning in my kids as best I can. I want them to know this joy much sooner than I did.

The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory
The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory

So, when my husband suggested we take the kids to The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, I was all over it like white on rice.

Now, if you’re like me, when you picture a space observatory, you picture a domed building boasting a powerful telescope with which you can view the heavens. But The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden is a radio observatory, meaning they observe space using radio waves. So, when we headed to the Observatory near White Lake in late August, I was surprised to see dish antennae everywhere and no dome in sight. These massive dishes all pointed back in time were nothing short of awe-inspiring, just sat there listening to space. I had a bit of a nerd-out moment when we saw them, with my jaw on the ground and multiple ‘wows’ slipping from my lips.

When you get The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, you have to park by the road and take about a five-minute walk in. You’ll stroll past CHIME which is described on the website as :

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). Canada’s largest radio telescope, CHIME, is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, McGill University and the University of Toronto. Collecting radio emissions from the Universe between 400 and 800 MHz, it is designed to survey atomic hydrogen from the largest volume of the Universe to date. This novel telescope, with no moving parts, is composed of four 100-metre by 20-metre cylinders with an array of 128 radio receivers along each focus, leading to 2048 inputs into the high-power digital data processor system. CHIME will map the whole sky visible overhead every day.

Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)
Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME)

But what does it look like? Well, it looks flippin’ cool! You’re going to walk past an array of massive, shiny cylinders and on the other side of the laneway, there is a long row of parabolic dishes to welcome you and all the while the whole works is collecting data from deep space.

At The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, you’re welcomed into a visitors room below the biggest dish of all, where you’ll take a self-guided tour. Guided tours are available if you go during the following times:

From Easter long weekend to Thanksgiving weekend the site is open weekends and statutory holidays from 10:00am-5:00pm for guided tours. Special tours led by Observatory staff are offered July and August, Sundays only, from 2:00pm-5:00pm.

Now, you’ll likely find this part just as kitschy as I did, as the exhibitions you can wander through all look like they were designed and built in the 1960s. Being as The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory first opened in 1960, I’m just going to go ahead an assume these are all the original exhibitions. You half expect Don Draper to pop out somewhere with a tumbler of brandy in one hand and a pencil-skirted redhead in the other, but I digress, it was interesting nonetheless.

While there was a whole lot more oohhhing and ahhing being done by myself than my kids, we still enjoyed the day and it appeared to provoke some thought in the mind of my youngest.

“I never want to go to space, Mommy.” He announced as we walked back to our car.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike there.”

Fair point, kiddo. Fair point.

If you want to take your little brainiacs to The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, it’s open year-round Monday to Friday, from 10:00am-5:00pm. It is totally free and located at 717 White Lake Rd in Kaleden:

Check out more of our pictures from The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory:

Have you been to this observatory? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments! 

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