This article is an excerpt from the Ottawa RASC (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) June 2014 Astronotes celebrating dark sky observing in their ‘good neighbour’ town of Mississippi Mills.
Reviews – Books; Films; Dark sky sites, Equipment, other
Here is the second in a series of public dark sky observing sites. See the February 2014 issue
of AstroNotes for a review of the Lennox‐Addington Dark Sky pad.
Almost Heaven: The FLO
By Gordon A. Webster
The more time I spend observing at darker sites, the more I realize just how blinded I am in
my Orleans backyard by the intense light pollution of the nearby park and ride, shopping
centre and the city in general. I find I am looking more and more for a darker site to observe
from but driving for two hours isn’t something I want to do regularly either. In the winter
being somewhere other than the backyard means the only place to get warm is the car with
its inherent loss of dark adaptation. And year round there is the issue of what to do with the
thermos of coffee l have consumed to stay awake and warm. There is a solution: the Fred P.
The FLO is located between Almonte and Pakenham about 25 minutes from Kanata. The
former Indian River Observatory was renamed in 1999 after the late Fred P. Losing. Fred was
a guiding force of the Ottawa Centre in the 1970s and 1980s. He was heavily involved in the
construction of the 16″ telescope and related buildings when they were originally built on the
site of the North Mountain Observatory. Fred was also the one who negotiated the release
of those buildings when the centre was caught without a permit to move them halfway
between North Mountain and their current location near the Indian River on the grounds of
the Mill of Kintail the center for Mississippi Valley Conservation Night Sky Education Program
One of those original buildings is now a warm room for key holders.The other houses the
16″ scope which is available after you have been trained on it; however you do need to be a member of the local Ottawa center RASC. The observatory has a roll‐off roof.
The actual observing site is set well back from the road so there are never any headlights to destroy your dark night sky adaptation. The access road is kept well plowed in the winter. It is maintained year round. At the end of the road is a large open area with the observatory buildings to the east. There is an observing mound to the south of the observatory. As well there are observing areas on the north and south sides of the parking lot. When setting up members must use either the mound near the observatory or the areas in the north or south side of the parking lot. Do not setup in the middle of the parking lot. Thanks to the outdoor lighting bylaw, the surrounding municipality has active light pollution abatement policies in place to maintain a quality night sky. This is because new commercial and residential outdoor lighting in Mississippi Mills follows Good Neighbour lighting practices.
But what about the sky?
The Clear Sky Chart shows it as olive green
What does that mean?
Well, the first thing you will notice is that the Milky Way is visible. M 31 the Andromeda Galaxy is a naked eye object. Coma Berenices’ hair glows with a shine most shampoos ads promise. The fainter Messier objects that are invisible in my 12″ scope in the city are easy targets in my 120mm at FLO. Because the site is a clearing in the woods you don’t get views to the horizon in any direction. In the photo, you can see Scorpius rising. The photo also gives you a good indication of the average height of the trees surrounding the site. They are a little taller toward the north and east. The benefit of this is that the trees hide the light domes . I find that I am not really aware of the light domes except the one from Ottawa which glows above the trees or shows up slightly in longer exposure photos. All in all, I like FLO. I have been there lots of times, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.
Often when I arrive there are others there. Just as often I have the place to myself. It’s not “Nirvana” but it is close, has a warm room and a an outhouse. I can go observing for four hours and still get enough sleep in my own bed to make it through the next day at work. That is a nice combination.