Dominion Astrophysical Observatory

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Dominion Astrophysical Observatory
Dominion Astrophysical Observatory front.jpg
Alternative names Observatoire fédéral d'astrophysique
General information
Current tenants National Research Council
Opening 1918
Design and construction
Architect Edgar Lewis Horwood
Architecture firm Dominion Architect of Canada
Official name: Dominion Astrophysical Observatory National Historic Site of Canada
Designated: 2001

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, located on Observatory Hill, in Saanich, British Columbia,[1] was completed in 1918 by the Canadian government. The Dominion Architect responsible for the building was Edgar Lewis Horwood.[2] Proposed and designed by John S. Plaskett in 1910 with the support of the International Union for Cooperation in Solar Research, when the 72-inch aperture telescope was constructed, it was planned to be the largest telescope in the world but delays meant it saw first light after the Hooker 100-inch telescope.[3]

The observatory has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada as it is a world-renowned facility where many discoveries about the nature of the Milky Way were made, and it was one of the world’s main astrophysical research centres until the 1960s.[4]

Centre of the Universe[edit]

Centre of the Universe is the public interpretive centre for the observatory that is regularly open to the public between May and September. The centre features interactive exhibits about astronomy, the work of the observatory and its parent organization, the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. There are also tours of the telescope and programs in the planetarium and video theatre. The Centre was closed by the Federal Government in August of 2013, claiming financial reasons as the cost. Local citizens are fighting the closure. More than 2000 signatures had been acquired on an online petition on Change.org[5] by September 13th, 2013. MLA Lana Popham is acquiring signatures on a hard copy petition that will be presented by her colleagues in the House of Commons. [6]

Telescope construction[edit]

The building that houses the telescope was built by McAlpine-Robertson Company of Vancouver for a price of $75,000. Both the building and dome, made by Warner and Swasey Co, are double walled.

The mirror weighs approximately 2000 kilograms and was made by the Saint-Gobain company in their Charleroi glass works in Antwerp, Belgium and shipped only a week before the start of World War I. It was then ground in the United States at the John A. Brashear company in Pittsburgh. The mirror had to be reground twice, once due to a mysterious scratch and the 2nd time due to a flaw in the grinding. This added 2 years to the completion time of the telescope, pushing the date back to 1918. The completed mirror was hauled up Little Saanich Mountain by horse and wagon.

Use[edit]

Following completion, Plaskett remained the head of the observatory until 1935.

A spectrograph is fitted to the Cassegrain focus and an imaging CCD is attached to the Newtonian focus.

In 1962, a 48" optical telescope was added to the observatory. The telescope, ordered in 1957, was made by Grubb Parsons of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Its Coude focus is used with a room sized spectrograph.

In 1995, the observatory was made the headquarters of the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, which operates several Canadian telescopes, both optical and radio. The NRC collaborates with international partners such as the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

The telescopes are in constant use today and are open for visitors year round. An interpretive centre called the Centre of the Universe was opened in 2002 but unfortunately closed in 2013 due to budgetary reasons.

As of July 2009, the current director was Dr James E Hesser.

Plaskett telescope contemporaries on commissioning[edit]

The Plaskett missed becoming the largest telescope in the World, but remained the second largest until the 74 inch (188 cm) reflector at David Dunlap Observatory in 1935 (also in Canada) debuted.

Top 2 in 1918:

# Name /
Observatory
Image Aperture Altitude First
Light
Special advocate
1 Hooker Telescope
Mount Wilson Obs.
100inchHooker.jpg 100 inch
254 cm
1742 m
(5715 ft)
1917 George Ellery Hale
Andrew Carnegie
2 Plaskett telescope
Dominion Astrophysical Obs.
Dominion Astrophysical Observatory front.jpg 72 inch
182 cm
230 m
(755 ft)
1918 John S. Plaskett

The next largest were the Harvard College Observatory 60 inch and the Mt. Wilson 60-inch Hale.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°31′13″N 123°25′05″W / 48.520286°N 123.418147°W / 48.520286; -123.418147