New society aims to reopen Centre of the Universe

Group aims to bring school field trips back to Dominion Astrophysical Observatory

A group of Saanich science fans are launching a new campaign to bring school aged kids back to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

Don Moffat is vice-chair of the brand new Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Society, a non-profit incorporated in June.

He says the new society’s plan is to reopen the The Centre of the Universe visitors centre that sits next to the iconic white observatory atop Little Saanich Mountain (on West Saanich Road), which closed in 2013 due to federal budget cutbacks.

“When the National Research Council announced the closing in 2013, I was told we would be allowed to reopen it if we could [organize] a new group such as this,” Moffat said. “Some of us came from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which is there for amateur astronomers, to create the Friends of the Observatory, which will have a broader representation of the community.”

The Friends of DAO hopes to open the observatory and Centre of the Universe to elementary school field trips.

Currently, school groups have no access to the observatory. Public access is limited to a few Saturday nights in the summer, hosted by the RASC with support from the NRC and over-subscribed summer camps through the University of Victoria’s Science Venture camp program.

Therefore, it’s the society’s goal to raise $9,500 and have that matched through grants to fully fund a new School Tours program as well as some equipment upgrades to improve the quality of presentations on Observatory Hill. They’re starting with a crowd funding site to “get things going.”

“We’re not trying to crowd fund in perpetuity, we plan to have a stable funding base, hopefully through corporate donations and benefactors,” Moffat said.

“Our long-term vision will, of course, cost far more…,” Moffat said. “…We plan to fully fund the education program and incrementally renovate the visitors centre in time for the observatory centenary in 2018.”

The Plaskett Telescope has been in operation since May 6, 1918, though construction of the building started in 1914 and ended in 1917.

The Centre of the Universe houses historical artifacts like the original 1.8-metre mirror from the Plaskett Telescope and once offered historical tours, multimedia shows and youth programs. It had cost about $277,000 to operate annually, including $245,000 in employee wages, but brought in about $47,000 per year in revenue, costing the National Research Council about $230,000 per year.

 

The Friends’ fundraising campaign is based through a crowd funding site at IndieGogo http://igg.me/at/FDAO. Those who wish to be involved in other ways may contact the society at info@observatoryhill.org.

 

 

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