Steve Bedingfield outside a downtown Yellowknife dental clinic with his telescope in August 2019. Alice Twa/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife residents strolling downtown this past week would have encountered an amateur astronomer on the sidewalk.
Wielding a specialized telescope outside the Adam dental clinic, Steve Bedingfield taught passersby how to get a peek at our nearest star.
“The sun is overwhelming in one way because it’s actually a very, very small circle in the sky, really,” Bedingfield said when Cabin Radio turned up for an impromptu lesson.
“We tend to think of it being this huge thing in the sky. It’s actually kind-of hard to point the scope a little bit and find it.”
Bedingfield’s hydrogen-alpha scope works by filtering out almost all of the sun’s light, allowing a clearer view of the star.
What you see when you look into the scope is mostly red. Bedingfield says when he first saw the sun, he didn’t believe it either – and he has to assure people that’s what it’s supposed to look like.
“It was very, very interesting seeing the flares, the sunspots, the prominences and the different parts of the sun,” he said.
Bedingfield, originally from eastern Ontario, moved up to Cambridge Bay 42 years ago and has been living in Yellowknife for 15 years.
He said he has no specific reason for taking to the sidewalk with his telescope, other than following the mandate of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – an organization of which he is a member.
“The mandate, the vision of our organization is to do outreach and public education and to share the sky,” he said. “Whether it’s the night-time sky, the daytime sky, aurora, whatever, we’re there to try to do some outreach.”
Bedingfield said skies like Yellowknife’s are “being encroached on constantly by light pollution” – a theme the City of Yellowknife itself exploited recently, in an unsuccessful quest for federal funding for smart streetlights to reduce such pollution.
But, he added, looking at the sun in the daytime with specialized equipment removes that light pollution problem.
Bedingfield’s other, related passion is the phenomenon of the solar eclipse.
“I’m also, with my wife, an eclipse chaser,” he said. “We travel the world and chase solar eclipses.”
Bedingfield wants others interested in taking up astronomy to know you don’t have to have all the gear or study for years – you just need to look up.
“Astronomy is accessible to everyone,” he said. You don’t need to have fancy equipment. Just get out under the night sky, look up, use binoculars, and use your eyesight.