The iconic Dominion Observatory that holds the Plaskett telescope will reopen one day per week

The iconic Dominion Observatory that holds the Plaskett telescope will reopen one day per week

Centre of the Universe could emerge from black hole next spring

Victoria stargazers will once again be looking to the skies, thanks to a tentative deal to reopen Centre of the Universe in April 2014.

Victoria stargazers could once again be looking to the skies at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich, thanks to a tentative deal to reopen Centre of the Universe on Saturday nights beginning in April 2014.

The National Research Council,  operator of the Herzberg research centre and Dominion observatory, has committed to reopen public outreach and to have someone available to operate the historic Plaskett telescope on Saturday nights for the public, either by an NRC staff member or a trained volunteer. The details have yet to be worked out.

Gregory Fahlman, director general of the NRC Herzberg astronomy astrophysics programs, said the intention has always been to open the Centre of the Universe building for the public, it’s just the “how” which needs to be worked out.

“There’s a sense … that a plan had been made, but I would say it’s more like the outlines of a plan. There is a plan to get a plan,” Fahlman said. “At least there is a consensus as to how this large group can move forward.”

NRC has committed to maintaining the building and making it available to community groups at a nominal cost.

“Everybody recognized that the draw is the (Plaskett) telescope, the observatory,” said Nelson Walker, president of the Victoria branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Volunteers from the society, who are at the facility regularly on Saturday nights using their own telescopes, will potentially take on public outreach roles, Walker said.

“The NRC professional staff of the Centre of the Universe is who did that, and they’re not there,” he said. “We feel bad about the staff leaving. We don’t fancy just stepping into their shoes, but who knows. That’s what we’re discussing.”

A tentative plan emerged from a meeting on Saturday at the observatory. NRC vice-president Dan Wayner, flew in from Ottawa to speak with about 30 local stakeholders, including University of Victoria professors, astronomers, educators, parents and others.

“(NRC) want to work with us. They said they will do everything that they can to make sure that works well,” said Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South.

The Centre of the Universe houses interactive educational displays and historic astronomy artifacts. It was closed to the public in August, due to funding cuts from the federal government. The Plaskett telescope was also closed to public tours.

Reopening the centre would happen without any direct funding from the federal government. Closing the centre saved the NRC’s $900-million budget about $230,000 per year, mainly from staff wages.

Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison tabled a petition in November with nearly 2,000 signatures calling to reopen the centre. The government has until February 2014 to respond to the petition.

“We knew probably by the end of September (the federal government) was a tree not worth barking up,” Popham said. “So instead of looking at this as an opportunity lost, we had to start looking at it as a new opportunity.”

Science Venture, a non-profit  organization at UVic, has also presented a six-month pilot project it wants to run with outreach for children, including workshops for school groups and spring and summer break programs.

“Potentially, if we can get that going, kids will have access again as early as February,” Popham said.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people – many of them school kids – have visited the national historic site each year since the Centre of the Universe opened 12 years ago.

Without NRC funding, Saturday night astronomy events can now be advertised, something which was not possible under the old model.

Two working groups have been struck to help the facility move forward. The short term group will be working towards having the facility open for Saturday nights by April. The long-term group will be looking at the overall future of the observatory.

Popham said a Friends of the Observatory charity will also likely be necessary to organize volunteers and fundraise to help keep the facility going.

Wayner has also committed to fly out again for the first Saturday night the facility is reopened for stargazing.

“He knows it’s important and he wants to experience it too,” Popham said. “The community was so incredibly disappointed last summer. (NRC) hadn’t expected such a public backlash from closing it and I think they’re inspired by our community.”

More information is available at saanichobservatory.ca.

kwells@goldstreamgazette.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sandy Carmichael is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Seniors’ Champion. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Worker bee returns to volunteer: Sandy Carmichael a fixture at Langford Royal Canadian Legion

Sandy Carmichael is the 2021 recipient of the Seniors’ Champion Award

The It’s Critical campaign has raised $5.89 million towards its $7 million goal to expand critical care capacity at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Critical care improvements make the list with Greater Victoria shoppers

Save-On-Foods pledges $300,000 to Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s It’s Critical campaign

West Shore Parks and Recreation facilities face a challenging future in terms of funding, due to reduced operations throughout the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore Parks and Recreation faces challenging future

West Shore Parks and Recreation Society submits 2021 budget request to owner municipalities

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon to listen to speakers decry COVID-19 restrictions. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Victoria residents protest masks, COVID-19 restrictions

Approximately 100 people gathered in Centennial Square Saturday afternoon

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after cancellations on Friday due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Most Read