Saanich observatory to host public viewings throughout summer

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory will host Saturday night public viewings this summer

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory will continue its centennial season with a limited number of Saturday night public viewings this summer.

The Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has announced its members will be at the otherwise-closed Saanich observatory for seven dates, July 5, 12 and 19, Aug. 2, 9 and 16, and Sept. 6. The public is welcome to attend each viewing, from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

RASC members will use telescopes to show visitors the moon, planets, stars and other objects in the sky. As well, the evenings will include audio-visual presentations and astronomy lectures on the historic Plaskett Telescope, rain or shine.

The National Research Council ended its funding for the observatory’s Centre of the Universe educational centre programs in September 2013, citing financial reasons – it cost about $32,000 to operate the facility and $245,000 for employee wages, with only about $47,000 per year coming in per year in revenue.

But the success of RASC’s Astronomy Day in May has prompted NRC to allow RASC to run the summer viewings.

“Astronomy Day drew more than 200 people to the Plaskett Telescope despite poor weather that prevented any observing that night,” said Nelson Walker, president of the Victoria Centre of the RASC. “We would like to thank the NRC for their co-operation, which makes all these activities possible.”

The Centre of the Universe will also be available this summer for space-themed camps for youth in Grades 3 to 8, and will be run by the Science Venture program from the University of Victoria.

“We are pleased that our members will be on Little Saanich Mountain again this summer showing the wonders of the universe to members of the public,” Walker said. “Our history of public outreach at the DAO goes back decades.”

After the closure of the Centre of the Universe facility at the end of last summer, various community groups met with NRC officials to examine ways of continuing public access to the DAO. This year, Science Venture and the Victoria Centre of the RASC are offering programs, and it is hoped that in the coming months a new organization will be established to operate programs in the long-term at the Centre of the Universe.

reporter@saanichnews.com