The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM

Page 6 of 11

As well, Nemy was part of a group called FRODO (Friends of the Dark Outdoors) that was active in Whistler for the middle '00s but disappeared as members left town. (Nemy and others are looking to resurrect FRODO in 2013 — see end of story.)

But above all their volunteer activities, the pair also worked towards their long-term goal of creating a full-time, public observatory in the resort.

And not just any observatory — an observatory with the largest public telescope in the world with a lens measuring two or three metres in diameter. They called it the "Very Large People's Telescope" (VLPT), and Nemy and Legate pictured a centre that would draw people from around the world to the resort to look through the lens at far-off galaxies.

Star tourism is a real thing after all, says Nemy, and interest is growing with all of the recent discoveries of things like water on Mars and planets circling distant stars. "Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico — they are all destinations for astronomy, and if people are going there then I thought it could happen in Whistler, too," he says. "I visited (the Lowell Observatory) in Flagstaff Arizona, and they get almost 200,000 visitors a year — and most of those don't even get a chance to look through a telescope. If we did have a landmark like this it would be an attraction. Like something you'd see at Disney, but all happening in real-time."

Nemy became discouraged with the lack of local support for his idea, and recently moved his own big telescope and astronomy operations to Hornby Island where he's set up a stargazing attraction called Island Stars. He does a radio show and hosts stargazing events, as well as a few astronomy events during the daylight. More than 50 people turned out for his first daytime event, a transit of Venus where the planet passed between the earth and sun back in June, with a lot of people staying after dark to look through his telescopes.

He hasn't given up on the VLPT entirely and believes it still belongs in Whistler, but says it's not likely to happen soon — or even in B.C.

"It will happen somewhere on the planet, like Chile, where there will be a massive telescope that people can look through," he said. "I was talking to astronomer Doug Welch (professor of physics and astronomy at McMcMaster) about the idea at a stargazing event, and whether he thought people would be interested, and he said 'you have no idea — right now you're looking at a nebula and the human eye is not sensitive enough to see colours. But with the proper telescope it starts to rival the really vivid images you see at the big observatories.'"


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