Many parts of Greater Victoria offer a view of the large white dome atop of Observatory Hill in Saanich.
At the end of the summer, that’s about the only way people will get to take in the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
The National Research Council reluctantly admitted last week that it plans to close the Centre of the Universe interpretive centre and end all public outreach connected with astronomy and astrophysics at the attached Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.
This will likely be the first time in the facility’s nearly 100 year history the public has been shut out of this local national historic site.
Greater Victoria has a lot to be proud of with the observatory – for a brief moment, the Plaskett telescope was the largest in the world, and it is a site that continues to make significant contributions to precision technology and our understanding of the universe.
The scientific research arm of the site, the NRC Herzberg Institute, isn’t closing and will continue to employ more than 100 people. But the federal government’s mandate to reorganize the NRC as an “industry-focused” organization certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.
Closing the Centre of the Universe is being framed as a cost saving measure under a regime of restricted budgets, and not a consequence of the NRC’s new approach.
It’s fair to say that the federal government has decided to abandon public education linked to its federal science.
Closing the Centre of the Universe will save the NRC about $230,000 of its $900 million budget, implying the decision was driven by an ideology suspicious of and hostile to science, rather than the principle of saving a few public tax dollars.
If the government wants “industry-focused” research and advanced technology, closing the door of research centres to young people is shortsighted and counterproductive.
Out of the thousands of kids that visit the Centre of the Universe each year, if only a handful are inspired to enter engineering, math and the sciences, the public outreach has proved its worth.