Astronomer in Residence

From August 15 to 21, 2022 I had the privilege of being the Astronomer in Residence at Killarney Provincial Park. The program is a partnership between the park, the Friends of Killarney Park, and the Allan I Carswell Observatory at York University. The park has two small domes; one with a 16” telescope, the other with a 10” telescope. Before we arrived I’d been in touch with the Head Park Naturalist, Kathleen, to set the schedule for my three presentations for the week. We decided on a drop-in solar observing session on Wednesday afternoon, a drop-in night-time observing session on Friday night, and a presentation in the amphitheater on Saturday night. Other than those obligations, the week was mine to fill.

I was not the only interpretive program game in town and my family and I took part in many of the offerings during our stay from an inspirational hike on the Granite Ridge trail with Marisa, to learning to build a fire and having s’mores with Harrison and Sophie, to a wonderful presentation by Grandmother Kim Wheatley, to a nighttime hike listening for owls with Kate, to a morning painting session with Artist in Residence Jim Morlock.

We’ve been dragging our kids from one end of the country to the other in the camper van since 2016 and hiking has been… not quite a favourite but we insist on it anyway. The kids are getting better about it so we decided to tackle The Crack! I had done it on my one other visit to Killarney Park back in 2006. It was harder than I remembered. It’s listed as a 6 km hike but there’s been a reroute recently and one of the park Interpreters told me it’s actually closer to 9 km now. And it involves a fair deal of climbing over beautiful quartzite rock. It was the toughest hike we’ve done as a family – I’m really proud of us! And the view from the top is breathtaking.

A black van with overlapping beige circle decals is parked to the right of a small observatory dome. The dome is beige and has a wooden deck built around it with a ramp leading up to it. Around the deck is a lawn. In the background are a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees.
Our camper van outside the observatory
There are walls of pinkish-beige rock on either side of this photo. The bottom centre is dark, above that there is another wall of rock where trees grow.
Hmm… I wonder why they call it The Crack?
In the foreground are white rocks and evergreen trees. In the midground are blue lakes and forested mountains that stretch to the horizon. Some white rock peeks out of the forests on the mountains. The sky is blue with a few puffy clouds.
What a view!

We filled our days with hikes, trips to the beach, interpretive programming, and reading. The evenings were filled with time at the telescope! Killarney Park is a dark sky preserve and the skies are dark and wonderful. We’re talking about Milky Way and naked-eye Andromeda Galaxy dark levels. The weather cooperated beautifully – it was clear nights all the way through the week with a few clouds starting to come in during the observing session on Friday night (though they didn’t interfere with our targets!) and rain on the last night. I was hoping for one last shot at some astrophotography but one can’t have everything.

I got to spend time at the scope every clear night. Some campers even came by one night so I gave them an impromptu observing session. Saturn and Jupiter were gorgeous. We also took a look at the Great Hercules Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Ring Nebula.

My programs were well-attended and well–received. It was a joy to deliver programming to people in 3D again after 2 years of doing virtual at work. It’s good to know people still enjoy my cheesy jokes.

It was an amazing experience and I hope to do it again. The staff at the park were wonderful, the facilities fantastic, the campers enthusiastic, and the skies so dark! I want to thank all the park staff, especially Kathleen, Marisa, Kate, and Harrison, for making my stay so fantastic. Thanks to the Friends of Killarney for funding the program. Thanks to Bruce for answering all my texts about the scopes. Thanks to the campers for coming out to the programs. Thanks to Elaina for encouraging me to get my application in. And last but certainly not least, thanks to my husband and kids for being the best assistants an astronomer could ask for.


A family of four (teenage daughter, father, mother, and tween son) stand in front of the largest mural in Canada. The mural is painted on an abandoned hospital. It incorporates the spectrum starting with yellows and oranges on the left and moving through to blues and purples on the right.
Our family in front of the largest mural in Canada
A dark blue telescope attached to a mount is in the foreground. In the background is a clear blue sky of twilight. There are some deciduous and coniferous trees on the horizon. In the midground is the beige plastic of the observatory dome, which is open.
At the 10” telescope waiting for darkness
Julie Tomé

Julie Tomé

Lead Educator at the Royal Ontario Museum and Space Place Canada Advisory Committee member