'It changed me': B.C. amateur astronomer honoured with asteroid name

Before he experienced an out-of-this-world transformation, Sid Sidhu's life was relatively routine.

“Work, come home,” Sidhu says. “Eat, go to sleep.”

But then the civil servant went on a camping trip with his family and happened upon a man with a telescope.

“I’d never looked through a telescope before,” Sidhu says.

Until the man invited Sidhu to see the night sky like never before.

“It was mind-boggling,” Sidhu says, smiling. “To be able to see light coming from distant objects.”

The experience was so profound, when Sidhu returned home, he contacted the local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. A couple years later, he was making his own telescope.

“It changed me,” Sidhu says. “It’s a new perspective on the whole life.”

A perspective that Sidhu now explores from an observatory that he built in his front yard.

“It’s like going to the top of the mountain and meditating,” Sidhu says, after opening the retractable roof on the shed and peering through the eyepiece in his telescope.

Although Sidhu spends his time gazing at the stars in space, he’s ultimately focusing on the people on earth.

“I live and breathe for public outreach,” he says.

Sidhu started the Victoria Astronomical Society’s education program.

He’s shared his passion for the stars with thousands of students, donated telescopes to aspiring young astronomers, and offers a different perspective on the world for at-risk youth.

“To give them a hobby,” Sidhu says. “Instead of spending the summer holidays out on the street.”

Sidhu’s latest project is custom-made, three-dimensional maps of the stars so people who can’t see can feel the constellations.

“The different heights are different brightness,” Sidhu says, running his fingers along the patterned bumps on a piece of wood. “They can feel how far apart [the stars] are.”

Sidhu’s volunteering in the community is one of the reasons he recently received nominations from his fellow astronomers, and approval from the International Astronomical Union, to have an asteroid named after him.

“It’s just most exciting,” he says.

Asteroid 10109 is now named Sidhu.

“I still haven’t seen the silly thing,” Sidhu laughs.

The asteroid is too dim to see with the telescope in his observatory. But Sidhu seems okay with that. From his perspective, there’s bigger things to focus on down here.

“We have only one life to live here,” Sidhu says. “We better make good use of it.”