John Plaskett looked to the stars

He may have been recognized internationally, but the astronomer called Esquimalt home

By Greg Evans, Municipal Archivist

Our understanding of the cosmos was greatly enhanced by Esquimalt resident Dr. John Stanley Plaskett.

Known in his time as “Canada’s greatest astronomer,” Armit Road was re-named Plaskett Place in 1953, in his honour.

He was born on a farm in Hickson, Ont. in 1865. His father died when John was 16 and after working on the family farm for a time, he began working for the Edison Company (later to became General Electric) in 1886. It was there that he gained his knowledge of electricity and mechanics. This interest would eventually lead to a degree in physics from the University of Toronto. His path was now set for a career in astronomy.

In 1903, he became a member of the Astronomy Division of the Department of the Interior where he helped to design and construct instruments for the new Dominion Observatory in Ottawa. There he designed a new type of spectroscope from which he collected thousands of spectrograms measuring the radial velocities of stars.

In 1910, he proposed that a new giant telescope be constructed so that more effective research in this area could be undertaken. In 1913 federal funding was secured and construction of the new observatory located on Little Saanich Mountain was soon underway.

Inaugurated in 1918, its 1.83-metre telescope was at the time, the largest in the world. Plaskett was appointed as the first director.

Continuing his research with vigour, in 1922, he discovered a binary star – the larger of the two is the most massive known and is named Plaskett’s Star.

Along with Joseph Algernon Pearce he established that our galaxy, the Milky Way, rotates and in time was able to measure its size, mass and rotational speed. Also, he established that it takes 220 million years for our solar system to make one galaxial rotation.

The recipient of numerous national and international awards, Plaskett retired in 1935.

Even after his death in 1941, Plaskett continued to receive recognition. In 1967, a crater on the moon, approximately 80 kilometres in diameter, was named in his honour.

His son, Harry, followed in his footsteps, he too becoming an astronomer of great distinction.

In 1988, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Canadian Astronomical Society created the Plaskett Medal, awarded each year to the author of the best doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics at a Canadian University.

 

editor@vicnews.com

 

 

Just Posted

Moon Lantern festival to light up Gordon Head

Saturday night festival celebrates harvest moon, fall season

First day of fall: what you can look forward to in Greater Victoria this season

Food, festivals, pumpkins and more are coming your way

Seeing double, the trials and tribulations of twins

BIG READ: Three Vancouver Island mothers share their experiences with multiple births

Police seek potential victims of bad ‘nanny’

Saanich Police seek potential victims of Johnathon Lee Robichaud from Central Saanich

Needles found at Goldstream campground in Langford

West Shore RCMP respond to several calls for service associated with homeless campers

Neighbours fear impact of tent city residents on Goldstream Provincial Park

Langford residents opposed to campers voice concerns at campground gate

5 things to do this weekend in and around Greater Victoria

Sooke Apple Fest returns, Saanich lights up with lantern festival and anarchists unite for downtown book fair

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Most Read