Telescopes in short supply as interest in night sky viewing grows thanks to COVID-19 | Penticton News | iNFOnews

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Telescopes in short supply as interest in night sky viewing grows thanks to COVID-19

More Kamloops and Okangan residents are viewing the night sky this year, but COVID-19 has interrupted the supply of telescopes.
Image Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
October 17, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Kamloops and Okanagan residents are following a national trend that has seen a burgeoning increase in night sky viewing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alan Dyer, an Alberta based astronomer, night sky photographer and creator of the website AmazingSky.com says telescope sales are at an all-time high. And with high demand high, supplies are often short.

“Money people would have spent on trips they are now spending on toys for activities close to home,” Dyer said in an email.

He says one of the best sources for astronomical information is the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada, who can provide information on local places to look at the night sky.

The society has a chapter in the Okanagan. Membership extends from Kamloops throughout the Okanagan valley and into Boundary country.

Their website provides clear sky charts in addition to providing national and local astronomical information.

READ MORE: How to make your night sky photography stand out

Dyer cautions, however, most astronomy clubs have curtailed public viewing sessions during COVID-19 protocols, but some offer virtual Zoom events.

Guy Mackie is director of the Okanagan Observatory, located four kilometres up Big White Road from Highway 33 in the Kelowna area. The observatory is a community astronomy project of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Okanagan Centre chapter.

Mackie is also director of the observatory’s telescopes.

He says there has been a small uptick in interest in public rentals of the observatory’s telescopes and a moderate uptick in interest from the public through emails and phone calls from residents wishing to purchase a telescope and looking for insight into what type of product to buy.

“The hobby isn’t as easy to get into as others, people have to jump in and see what happens,” Mackie says, explaining there isn't a lot of infrastructure to introduce people to the hobby like there might be for something like golf.

Okanagan Observatory has been closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mackie says many members can observe the night sky from their backyards if they live in rural areas.

He says member usage is up a little this year, while membership has stayed relatively static.

“We did develop a COVID-19 safety plan, but in the end decided it was too risky, especially with our (older) age group, who are more at risk,” he says.

Mackie says people interested in astronomy could become members of the local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society, which would give them access to the club’s rental telescopes.

“We recommend local retailers such as we can, but joining a local astronomical society is a great thing to do whether you’ve bought your own telescope or want to take advantage of the rental program. Not only do you get the telescope, but you get the knowledge resources of this larger community,” Mackie says.

The boom in astronomy is also feeding a demand for telescopes which local science shops are working hard to supply.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has interrupted supply chains, making it a frustrating situation for local retailers.

In Penticton, Sirius Science and Nature store manager Lisa Doucette says she’s had requests for telescopes and wishes she was busier selling them, but she hasn't been able to get any telescopes until just recently.

“There are none to be had, manufacturers have reduced staff, and U.S. manufacturers have been affected by COVID-19. There’s definitely an increase in interest, but we haven’t been able to stock them and those assembled in Mexico have been affected by the Mexican border which was closed for quite a while. It all has a trickle-down effect,” she says.

Fortunately, Doucette says she’s expecting a shipment this week which should contain some telescopes. She’s been waiting for them since June.

Vernon Telescope Nature & Science owner/operator Raffaele Scotto Lachianca echoes Doucette’s frustration at having a growing customer base with limited supply.

“We’re having some supply troubles due to COVID-19. We’ve been waiting for shipments from China for months, and as a result we’re losing sales. People are going to Amazon,” Lachianca says.


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