Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Star Parties!

Dear Friends,

Just a quick note to make sure you know that your last chance to attend a Summer Star Party is coming up quick

There are only two parties left this year. The one tomorrow is already is ‘sold out’.

But there is a final 2016 part on Saturday August 20.

Tickets are free but must be reserved online.

Tickets will be available for reservation starting at 1pm today …and they will go quick!

Click here for more information and to reserve tickets.

A huge THANK YOU to the many RASC-Victoria volunteers and the National Research Council for sharing with us the wonder and science of the cosmos! Visit for more information. There is also a new organization called the Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory – their website is here:

What happens at a Star Party? My favourite part is that super-keen and knowledgeable volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society set up their telescopes and share the stars with you. There are also Astronomy lectures and presentations and displays from the Centre of the Universe.

Warm regards,


Lana Popham
Member of the BC Legislative Assembly for Saanich South
P: 250.479.4154 | | F: 250.479.4176  |  4085 Quadra, Victoria BC V8X 1K5  | facebook  |

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Summer Star Parties 2016

I'm very excited to share the news that "Summer Star Parties" are back at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. All the details are on the poster below. These free events will "sell out" so be sure to reserve your tickets beforehand. They are available for reservation one week before the party date.


At the Royal BC Museum and the Beginning of 2016 Public Night-Sky Viewing at the Centre of the Universe
International Astronomy Day 2016 takes place in Victoria on Saturday, May 14th, with daytime activities at the Royal BC Museum from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and public telescope viewing at the National Research Council of Canada’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Centre of the Universe from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm in the evening.
Astronomy Day activities will begin at 10 am at the Royal BC Museum with solar telescopes for safely viewing the sun and the RASC’s famous “Walk among the Planets” display outside on the main concourse.
Inside Clifford Carl Hall there will be telescope, mirror grinding, astrophotography and historical displays.  RASC volunteers and Science Venture students from the University of Victoria will engage children with hands-on activities.   
There will be two lecture presentations on astronomy in the Newcombe Conference Hall, one at 1:00 p.m. and a second at 2:00 p.m. All of the Astronomy presentations, displays and workshops are free, but regular admission charges apply to the permanent galleries of the Royal BC Museum and the IMAX theatre.
The RASC’s Victoria Centre and NRC Herzberg will host evening activities for International Astronomy Day on Observatory Hill, 5071 West Saanich Rd., from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm, rain or shine.  The co-hosts will welcome visitors with tickets to Observatory Hill starting at 7:30 pm. 
The Centre of the Universe exhibits will be open and tours of the Observatory will be given every half hour.  The historic Plaskett Telescope will be open for tours, and RASC members will have personal telescopes set up for public viewing if weather permits. Astronomer Ivar Arroway will present a public lecture on the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system at 8:00 pm.
Astronomy Day 2016 marks the beginning of 2016 public events at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory put on by the Victoria Centre of the RASC. Further public events at the DAO will take place this spring and summer on the following Saturday evenings: May 21 and 28, June 4 and 11, July 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30, and August 6, 13 and 20.
Entry to the Observatory grounds for all public evenings in 2016, including May 14, is by ticket ONLY.   Tickets are FREE.  To obtain your entry ticket, please go to:
The RASC Victoria Centre is proud of its history and association with both amateur and professional astronomy in Victoria and its mandate for public education in Astronomy.  Come celebrate International Astronomy Day with the RASC on May 14!
For more information please go to our website at

 Contact person: (not for public release) Sherry Buttnor  250-474-0554

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Welcome: Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory

Dear Friends,

I'm pleased to share with you that a new organization has formally taken shape: Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

Friends of the DAO is a registered non-profit BC Society led by an excellent group of people who collectively have a well-established track record of advancing public engagement with the Observatory. 

We are in good hands!

You can find out more about the Society on their website, or on their facebook page,

I wish this group the very best and I look forward to supporting their efforts. 

To that end, I hope to see you at their first fundraiser: Science and Culture in the Inner Harbour featuring  Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald. November 20th 2015 7pm - 9:30pm. More information and tickets here:

Warm regards, Lana
Lana Popham, MLA Saanich South

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Last Star Party of the Year!

Dear Friends,

This Saturday night is your last chance in 2015 to revel in the stars atop the beautiful Observatory Hill!

5071 West Saanich Road at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

Free admission!

Gates open at 7:30pm and close at 10:00pm.

The incredibly powerful Plaskett telescope will be operational and there will be tours of the historic observatory all night long.

Super smart and friendly RASC members are present with their own smaller telescopes to answer your questions and chat about the universe.

Only 200 people will be allowed up.

Visit for more information.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New non-profit hopes to revive Centre of the Universe programs

From left, Ben Dorman, volunteer Lauri Roche and Don Moffatt are part of a
non-profit society that hopes to restore the former glory of the Centre of the
Universe, which was shut down in 2013 as part of federal budget cuts.
Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
Reprinted from the Times Colonist, May 26, 2015 CINDY E. HARNETT 

Interpretive centre open Saturday nights for first time since 2013

When Victoria’s Ben Dorman worked at NASA, he saw a cartoon that read: “I think there’s more to life than unlocking the mysteries of the universe.”

Dorman, a Governor General’s gold-medal winner for this PhD thesis on the evolution of the stars, learned just that when his son was diagnosed with autism.

Dorman, who worked at NASA as both a researcher and software developer, left astronomy, and he and wife Catriona Johnson eventually returned to Victoria to focus on their family.

Now the pair have teamed up as co-directors with business analyst Don Moffatt to head a non-profit society intent on restoring the former glory of the Centre of the Universe, shut down in 2013 as part of federal budget cuts.

It’s full circle for Dorman, now an IT consultant, who once again has his head in the stars.

“The goal is to have a professionally run centre with paid educators and updated digital displays,” said Dorman. “And once good people are in place, the sky is the limit.”

In August 2013, citing financial constraints, the National Research Council shut the doors to the Centre of the Universe. Staff were laid off and programming ceased.

The interpretive centre, opened in 2001, is adjacent to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road. With it, the government also closed down public access to the observatory’s historic Plaskett telescope.

The public facility had cost an average of $310,000 a year to run and brought in between $50,000 and $60,000 in revenue.

There was fierce public reaction to the closure.

The government pledged to continue to pay the building’s taxes, maintenance and security while volunteers developed a sustainable way to operate the centre and its public programs.

Last year, the observatory was opened on Saturday nights for public viewings.

This year, volunteers redoubled their efforts and on May 9, the Centre of the Universe also opened for Saturday-night viewings.

For the first time since the 2013 closure, both the centre and the observatory are open on Saturday nights through September.

There are planetarium shows, lectures in the auditorium and displays. Organizers have even reached out to the arts community to provide music. Last Saturday night featured “Guitars Under the Stars.” Camps have also reopened for this summer.

“It’s a big deal that the Centre of the Universe is back,” said Moffatt.

The opening is thanks to more than 200 volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Victoria. But local astronomers want more than Saturday night viewings for future generations.

That’s why the Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Society — now in the process of incorporating — is focused on rebuilding the interpretive centre, in partnership with the local astronomical society and the University of Victoria’s Science Venture camps. Moffatt said the impetus for the society came out of his meeting with NRC president John McDougall in August 2013, where McDougall said the research council would prefer to have a single community-based non-profit run the centre.

Dorman said the centre’s programs used to reach up to 45,000 adults and children a year, and now reach only a few thousand because of the closure. There’s now a huge gap between what the centre was and what it could be, said Dorman, who earned his PhD in astrophysics at the University of Victoria. “That’s a shame and we should do something about that. [The observatory] has been, throughout the last 100 years, a place people want to visit to find out about the stars.”

The government sank a lot of money into building the centre and to see it unused is a shame, Dorman said. While living in the United States, Dorman and his wife transformed a small volunteer-run autism group in the state of Maryland into a non-profit with paid staff.

With Moffatt, the couple intends to use that hands-on knowledge to revive the Centre of the Universe programming and displays through corporate donations, government grants and fundraising. They will soon be selling memberships for a nominal price, so as to involve the community in the centre’s evolution.

“It’s a nice cause to be involved in — something that can directly help the community I loved enough to move back to,” Dorman said. Observation nights at the Centre of the Universe and observatory are: May 30, July 18 and 25, Aug. 1, 8, and 29, and Sept. 12, from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Entry gates close at 10 p.m. and attendance is limited to 200 visitors at any one time. June viewings are not possible because the nights are too bright.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Summer Star Parties 2015!

I'm very pleased to report that Summer Star Parties are back for 2015! Congratulations to the volunteers with RASC-Victoria and everyone who has worked so hard to bring the stars to Saanich. Special thanks to RASC's Lauri Roche, Jim Hesser, Nelson Walker, and Don Moffatt and the NRC's Greg Fahlman, Kevin Farris, and Morrick Vincent. Lana Popham, MLA Saanich South

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Victoria Centre
with the support of The National Research Council of Canada, Herzberg

Summer Star Parties

at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory
5071 West Saanich Road

April 25th, May 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th
July 18th and 25th. August 1st, 8th and 29th. September 12th

7:30 PM TO 11:00 PM (Gates close at 10:00PM)


  • Tours of the historic Plaskett telescope
  • Astronomy lectures and presentations
  • Music in the dome
  • Night sky viewing
  • “Constellation Walks”
Please download and print the poster as a reminder for these events!

For safety reasons, we are limited to hosting 200 visitors at the Observatory at a time. If you arrive and are turned away, please try again later, or on another Saturday evening. We are open twelve Saturday evenings this summer to help accommodate you. Our apologies for any inconvenience.
Please note there is absolutely no stopping or parking along West Saanich Road adjacent to the Observatory entrance. Smoking anywhere on Observatory grounds is also prohibited.
If you require assistance while at the Observatory, please ask any of the Commissionaires, or RASC members on site. RASC members can be identified by their safety vests.

For more information about these events, please contact Sherry Buttnor

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chris Gainor reviews the Summer of 2014 at the Saanich Observatory

Chris Gainor
Check out this great blog post from the indefatigable Chris Gainor. Chris is a well-known writer and historian specializing in the history of space exploration and aeronautics. He is the Second Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. He has authored four books and has a Ph.D. in the history of technology.

A great summer at the Centre of the Universe

The first summer of public outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory since last year's closure of the Centre of the Universe educational centre has gone in the books as a major success.

Large crowds came out for Saturday night public observing at the DAO, and space camps held for young students were also well supported. Having said that, this year's public outreach was not trouble free, and a lot of work needs to be done in the coming months to ensure that public outreach continues on a more permanent basis.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Vox Humana at the Saanich Observatory!

Vox Humana is the best choir in town, making this a thrilling use of the acoustics and setting. Expect tickets to go fast. The concerts are on Friday, September 12 and Saturday, September 13.
- Friends of the DAO

Vox in the Stars
NRC Centre of the Universe, 5071 West Saanich Road 
Friday, September 12th, 2014 - 7:30pm 
Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - 7:30pm

*Only 90 tickets available to each performance!

Tickets: $30
Duration: about 1.5 hours
Entrance: open at 6:45pm (no late admission)

Tickets are NOT available at the concert. All tickets MUST be purchased in advance.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit:

Thank you

Thank you to all the volunteers, musician Ian Bezpalko, and visitors at the DAO tonight, our last Star Party for 2014. Over 430 visitors attended tonight. Many people were turned away at the base of the hill, regrettably. We are determined to offer more Star Parties in 2015. 
-Friends of the DAO

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Popham brings popcorn

Photo Credit: Jim Hesser.
Over 450 people attended the year’s final “Star Party” last night!

MLA Lana Popham brought hot chocolate and popcorn to celebrate the event and thank volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Thanks Lana!

Little Zev proudly volunteered all night, pouring more than 300 hot chocolates (only spilling one when distracted by talk of a tip :).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Stargazing support tops expectations

Reprinted from the Saanich Newsby Travis Paterson, July 25, 2014
Saturday night stargazing at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory has taken off with a total of more than 500 people showing up at the last two events.
Nearly 350 visited the Centre of the Universe for a tour of the Plaskett Telescope on July 12, with another 200 braving the windy conditions on July 19 for a super moon viewing.
“Unfortunately the wind kept us from opening the dominion roof, but those who stuck it out and stayed late finally got to peek through the telescope a little before 11 p.m.,” said Lauri Roche, a volunteer with the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“Other than being blown off the hill by winds it was another great night,” Roche said.
With wind up to 50 km/h, the Plaskett’s fragile lenses couldn’t be exposed, Roche said.
“It’s safe to say the free admission is drawing big numbers, but as long as we’re around the 200 to 300 mark, we’re okay,” she said.
“Anything over 300 and it does start to get a little crowded with lineups.”
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham – who launched a petition to save the facility’s outreach programs after the federal government announced it was pulling funding last year – said the early turnout has been encouraging.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of the longevity of the centre, but it’s worth doing. And it’s gathered the community together,” Popham said.
A host of community supporters hopes to establish a long-term plan for the Centre of the Universe while utilizing transitional funding from the National Research Council Canada for short-term activities.
One-week youth day camps are also being run by Science Venture at the facility for July and August.
The observatory will not be open this Saturday (July 26) as the society-led Metchosin Star Party starts tonight (July 25), and runs all day Saturday and Sunday morning.
This year marks the 15th year for the Star Party, boasting a set up of 50 telescopes behind the Metchosin Fire Hall for sky viewing.

Did you know?

- There are still spots for kids and youth from Grades 3 to 8 who are keen on space exploration and physics through the University of Victoria summer camp Science Venture at the observatory. Visit or call 250-721-8983 for more information.
- Saturday night public observing continues at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on Aug. 2, 9 and 16, and on Sept. 6, from 8 to 11:30 p.m.
- The Observatory will be financially supported by the National Research Council for a few more years.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Summer Star Parties!

Have a look at this poster for all the details. Kudos to the volunteers at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and a big thank-you to the generous and hard-working folks at the NRC's Herzberg Institute. Lana

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

7 free Saturday Night Star-Gazing Parties confirmed for 2014!

Guests waiting to enter the Observatory on what was
scheduled to be the final night of public viewing, Aug 24 2013 
Dear Friends,

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory will be open for public observing on seven Saturday nights this summer.

The grounds of the DAO will open from 8:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for the Saturday night observing sessions on July 5, 12 and 19, August 2, 9 and 16, and September 6.

On these evenings, volunteers will use their telescopes to show visitors the Moon, planets, stars and other objects in the sky. As well, these evenings will include audio-visual presentations and astronomy lectures inside the historic Plaskett Telescope. These inside activities will take place regardless of the weather conditions.

The National Research Council of Canada is providing its astronomical facilities with the help of volunteers from the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada (RASC). The evenings are being held at no cost to the general public. Space is limited, arrive early to avoid disappointment.

While the Centre of the Universe educational centre will not be open during these evenings, the NRC is making it available this summer for space-themed camps for young people from Grade 3 to 8 run by the Science Venture program at the University of Victoria.

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 at the Centre of the Universe. 

Congratulations to RASC-Victoria, the NRC and all the friends of the Saanich Observatory!


Lana Popham, MLA Saanich South

Friday, April 25, 2014

Astronomy Day - May 3rd!

Thanks to many talented and passionate volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Victoria Centre) a very special day awaits all lovers of the stars.

Click below for a audio piece with Lauri Roche, past-President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada - Victoria Centre, speaking to Gregor Craigie of CBC's On the Island, about the day:

Details are below. Or visit the RASC Victoria site for more information. 

Saturday May 3rd is Astronomy Day!

10am-4pm at the Royal BC Museum

8pm-11pm at Observatory Hill

Royal BC Museum - 10am-4pm

  • Solar viewing (weather permitting)
  • Solar System model – walk among the planets on the plaza outside
  • Ask an astronomer – ask those astronomy questions you always wondered about
  • General information table – RASC Victoria Centre
  • Science Venture – interactive science exhibits from UVic students
  • Astrophotography display and information – learn how to use your camera to take night sky photos
  • Pearson College science exhibits – interactive and innovative science for kids of all ages
  • Telescope making table – learn how to grind a mirror to make your own telescope at home
  • Children’s Activity table – hands-on crafts, planet making, etc.
  • Static displays
    • Antique brass telescope from the CU museum
    • Other telescopes
  • Video media displays – 3D video displays, desktop planetarium, images from space missions
  • The physics of Angry Birds
  • Bad Science
  • 11AM – Mars Explorations – Chris Gainor, Canadian space author
  • 2PM - Worlds Without End - James Di Francesco - The recent discoveries of hundreds of planets by NASA’s Kepler satellite observatory have profound implications about the proliferation of planets within our Galaxy.  Namely, the latest statistics show that the number of planets in the Galaxy is likely larger than the number of stars.  Also, every star in the sky likely has at least one “Earth-like” mass planet.  James will summarize the most recent discoveries made by the Kepler team, and highlight the prospects of further discoveries by Canadians with the new Gemini Planet Imager.
  • Galileo might even make an appearance!

Observatory Hill - 8pm-11pm

Return to Observatory Hill
On International Astronomy Day, Saturday, May 3rd the RASC and the NRC Herzberg invites everyone back up onto Observatory Hill where the Centre of the Universe displays and the historic Plaskett Telescope will be re-opened for night sky public viewing.
Opening of the Hill is from 8 pm to 11 pm. Please wear warm clothing as it can be cool and windy in the evening. Parking is very limited so please follow all the directions of the Commissionaires for access.
Schedule of activities:
8:00 pm Gates open to visitors
8:00 to 10:45 pm Displays open in the Center of the Universe exhibit area
8:00 to 10:45 pm Telescope viewing with the RASC – parking lot
8:15 pm Welcome ceremonies – Center of the Universe Auditorium
8:30 pm Pubic Talk: Dr. Rita Mann “Death Stars in the Orion Nebula: Recent Observations into Planet Formation” – CU Auditorium
8:30 to 10:30 pm: Tours of the Observatory and Night Sky Viewing with the Plasket Telescope facilitated by Dr. David Bohlender
9:15 pm Public Talk: Dr. Michele Bannister “The Hidden Oceans of Icy Moons” – CU Auditorium
10:45 pm Closing of exhibits, telescopes and night sky viewing
11:00 pm Departure off the hill
Please join us as we celebrate the RASC’s 100th Anniversary in 2014. Thank you to the NRC/Herzberg for permitting us to put on this special evening program with them and we hope that we will be able to have more open Saturday night sky viewing in the summer. For more information please contact: Lauri Roche by email.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Starry Nights Again!

Petitioners and Lana at public demo to save the Saanich Observatory,
August 24, 2013
Dear Friends of the Saanich Observatory,

I am very happy to share with you three pieces of good news about public access to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Centre of the Universe.

1. Star-Gazing Saturday Night on International Astronomy Day!
On Saturday May 3rd, from 8-11pm, the Centre of the Universe will be open! Volunteers with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) will have their telescopes set up for public gazing and there will be tours of the Observatory itself. The powerful Plaskett Telescope will be operational, weather permitting. There will be lectures by National Research Council (NRC) astronomers later in the evening.

This free evening event will cap a full day of astronomy activities at the Royal BC Museum. More information available at

2. Summer Camp is back at the Saanich Observatory!
 This July and August, UVIC’s much-loved Science Venture is offering eight week-long Astronomy Camps at the Centre of the Universe! If you have kids in grade 3-8, check out the “spaceTECH” or “astroLAB” camps. SpaceTech will teach campers how technology makes it possible to live and work in space. AstroLAB focuses on stars, planets, galaxies, and hands-on building projects. The goal of both camps is to deepen knowledge and inspire our youth to learn about astronomy, physics and space technology – in a fun way, and now at a truly awesome location! Registration opens April 22nd. More information at

3. Star-Gazing Saturday Nights this Summer!
The RASC is planning seven star-gazing evening events this summer! This is still tentative, but I expect it will be confirmed very soon. The dates on hold are July 5, 12 and 19, August 2, 9 and 16 and September 6. The plan is for a free evening event, rain or shine, with tours of the Observatory and, hopefully, viewing from the Plaskett telescope. RASC volunteers will be on hand to share their knowledge and will have their own telescopes set-up for the public to use. Stay tuned for finalized plans!

I want to acknowledge and thank the many people – at RASC, UVIC and the National Research Council -- who have put in long hours to make this all possible. This is a fantastic beginning to the next phase of public engagement and support for the Saanich Observatory. Community volunteers and the NRC continue to work together closely as they develop long-term plans for public access for 2015 and beyond.

Warm regards,


PS. Click here for an article about this from today's Times Colonist:

For more information:

Star-Gazing Saturday Nights 
Lauri Roche, Volunteer, RASC, 250 652 2361,

Space Venture Camps at the Centre of the Universe 
Melisa Yestrau, Director, Science Venture, 250 721 8661,

Public Engagement with the Observatory and the Centre of the Universe 
Jim Hesser, NRC, 250 363 0007,

Friends of the Observatory: developing long-term public support and access to the Observatory and the Centre of the Universe 
Don Moffatt, Chair of Short-Term Working Group, 250 208 3666,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TV news coverage of plans to restore public access to Saanich Observatory

CTV Vancouver Island and CHEK TV report on plans to re-open the Centre of the Universe and restore public access to the Saanich Observatory, November 25 2013.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Exciting plans to restore public access to Saanich Observatory!

Attendees of stakeholder meeting, Nov 23 2013 
Nov 23 Meeting, Stakeholder attendees
Dear Friends of the Saanich Observatory,

On Saturday morning I chaired a meeting at the National Research Council (NRC)’s Astrophysics headquarters. 30 stakeholders came together to discuss how best to restore public access to the Saanich Observatory. 

Attendees included Dan Wayner, the NRC Vice President, and Greg Fahlman, the General Manager of the Observatory and Herzberg Institute, as well as the Dean of Engineering, Tom Tiedje, an Astrophysics Professor from UVIC, Sara Ellison, a Vice-President from the Royal Museum of BC, Janet MacDonald, prominent local business people, public school science teachers, and six long-time astronomy volunteers with the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada (RASC). A full list of attendees is in the sidebar image. I want to genuinely thank them all for their positive engagement and excellent contributions.

By the end of the three hour meeting we had agreement on the outlines of a plan to re-open the Centre of the Universe and restore public access to the Saanich Observatory! 

Of course there is a ton of work left to do, but we are now well on our way.

The NRC agreed to pay for all the infrastructure, maintenance, utility and security costs for the Centre of the Universe. They also agreed to negotiate free public access to the Observatory so regular Saturday night viewings could resume.

Centre of the Universe could reopen next spring

By Kyle Wells - Victoria News
Published: November 25, 2013 10:00 AM 
Updated: November 25, 2013 10:57 AM

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

The National Research Council, the operator of the Saanich-based facility, has agreed to give the public access to the Plaskett telescope on Saturdays and to provide a person to operate it. All other roles for the astronomy public outreach facility will be filled by volunteers from the Victoria branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, who are at the facility regularly on Saturdays anyway, using their own telescopes.

NRC will also provide upkeep to the building, security and a person who is trained to run the telescope.

Deal close to reopen Centre of the Universe for students and public viewings

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham the Centre of the Universe in
the summer, kicking off a a bid to keep the Saanich facility open.
A deal to do that is now close.  Photo: BRUCE  STOTESBURY, TC.

The stars are aligning for the Centre of the Universe to light up again for Saturday night gazing by students if a tentative agreement is sealed.
The centre is an interpretive centre adjacent to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road. It closed its doors on Aug. 24.

CFAX breaks story of tentative deal to restore public access to Saanich Observatory

CFAX Clip of Nov 25 2013 Al Ferraby interview of MLA Popham CFAX

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Update: Community leaders coming together to reopen Saanich Observatory

Dear Friend of the Saanich Observatory,

How about a little good news? Our effort to restore public access to Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and reopen the Centre of the Universe is moving forward!

Through my non-partisan Constituency Office, I have connected over the last two months with more than a dozen community leaders. As it turns out, they all share the same goal: restore public access to the Saanich Observatory!

I’ve received encouragement and input from a group that includes astronomy buffs, the President of the National Research Council (NRC) and the General Manager of the NRC Herzberg; the Presidents of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada, Victoria Chapter; the President of the Prospect Lake Community Association; UVIC staff, students, Professors and Deans; elected officials at the school board, municipal, provincial and federal levels; successful business owners, tourist operators and astronomy educators in Saanich and the region; the CEO of the Royal BC Museum; BC Government representatives in the areas of heritage, technology and tourism; and of course teachers, parents and children.

To further our shared goal, I am organizing a meeting for stakeholders in late November at the Observatory itself. I will update you after that meeting but I am always open to hearing your input and am building a list of people who like to be involved - please be in touch!

It is my privilege to actively assist this community effort. Please have a look at my Comment in yesterday's Times Colonist for my perspective on this issue.

I look forward to hearing your reflections, and to working with you to realize a successful future for this historic site.

Warm regards,


Lana Popham
MLA Saanich South
P: 250.479.4154 | F: 250.479.4176 |

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Times Colonist: We should reopen observatory to the public

Courtesy of BC Archives, Royal BC Museum
Times Colonist, Comment Page, A11, by Lana Popham, 29 Oct 2013

Federal budget cuts closed the Saanich Observatory to the public last summer; public effort can ensure it is reopened.
There may be no better place in Canada to look at the stars than right here in Saanich. That is why, 100 years ago, Little Saanich Mountain was chosen as the site for what became the most powerful telescope in the world.
Construction of the observatory began in 1914 under the leadership of Canada’s top astronomer of the day, John Stanley Plaskett. Two years later, the site was ready for the telescope’s 9.5-tonne polar axis. It took 12 draft horses a day and a half to cart it to the top. The final piece needed was an enormous Belgian-cast glass mirror that was carefully turned on its side and rolled like a dime into the Observatory. There it was silvered and mounted in place and the observatory captured its first images on May 6, 1918.
The observatory is a beautiful icon of science and it should surprise no one that it is a National Historic Site. But what does surprise many is that this old telescope is still used today for cutting-edge scientific work. A state-of-the-art digital back-end is now strapped to its enormous mirrored eye, making it 10,000 times more sensitive than when first built.
Astronomers from around the world use the telescope. Beside the observatory is the Herzberg Institute, a sprawling complex run by the National Research Council. It is the centre of astronomy in Canada with 150 employees on site and an annual budget of about $30 million. Much of this money is spent locally, making a significant contribution to our local economy.
One of the main activities undertaken at NRC Herzberg is the development of technology. For example, sophisticated hardware — made up of components measured in micrometres — is fabricated and used in astronomical equipment around the world and in outer space. Herzberg also houses an enormous data centre. It is a key global hub of astronomical knowledge, sending out terabytes of data to researchers around the world.
Over the past decade, the federal government funded excellent public-outreach efforts at the observatory. In 2001, it built an interpretive centre, the Centre of the Universe, and since then has invested about $250,000 a year in public outreach.
That investment led to many activities, including public Saturday night star viewings, sci-fi movies projected on the side of the observatory, regular busloads of people on heritage and tourist visits, intensive youth summer camps and tens of thousands of public visits and school class trips.
This last point is, in my view, the greatest value to the community. Our children benefit enormously from witnessing high-level science in action and learning about the universe from top NRC staff and scientists. Many young people have been inspired to pursue the sciences from their experiences at the Saanich Observatory.
All of this outreach came to a crashing halt last summer with an announcement by the federal government that, for the first time in its history, there would be no public access to the Saanich Observatory. You can still climb the hill at certain times, but at the top you will find the Centre of the Universe closed and the historic observatory itself is off-limits to the public. The change was described by the government as a cost-saving measure, even though the expense was a minuscule 0.02 per cent of the $950-million NRC budget.
But this story is not over!
The abrupt closure had an unintended consequence: It sparked thousands of people to learn about what they were losing and they soon came together to push for a better outcome. Media coverage of the impending closure led almost 1,000 people to try to visit on the final public night — and almost every one of them signed a petition calling for funding of public access to be restored.
I have organized a meeting in the observatory on Nov. 23 to help us move in that direction. Key stakeholders — including NRC staff, public educators, heritage experts, University of Victoria professors, local business people and other community leaders — will come together for the first time. Together, we can convert the tremendous passion in the community for the observatory into a plan to reopen it to the public.
When the Plaskett telescope took its first pictures 100 years ago, astronomers thought there was just one galaxy, our Milky Way. Today we believe there are at least 100 billion galaxies out there, each with 300 billion stars! The Saanich Observatory is our window onto the universe. We must work together to ensure public access is restored.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Video from the Centre of the Universe's "final night"

Check out these videos about the closing of the Centre of the Universe - taken on the last day scheduled for public access. Lana

More than a 1000 people demonstrated support for Saanich Observatory on 'final night'

Click image to see more photos.
More than a thousand people attempted to visit the Saanich Observatory on August 24 2013, the last evening scheduled for public attendance. Most were turned away, as the facility can accommodate less than 200 people at a time. 

I stayed at the bottom of Little Saanich Hill for six hours, taking in the public's disappointment and frustration at the decision to end public access to the Saanich Observatory. I also collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on the Federal Government to re-instate funding for the Centre. 

This fight isn't over! I will continue to work on this issue until public access is restored. Please join the private email list - a sign-up form is to your left - so I can update you on this campaign. (Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.)

And check out great photographs from the 'final night'. Wonderful images to inspire us: we'll be back up there again!!


Lana Popham
MLA Saanich South

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Centre’s closure a symbol of Canada’s misguided science policy: Editorial

For more than a decade, at the Centre of the Universe kids learned while looking out into the vastness of deep space that our modest blue planet is not, in fact, the centre of the universe. Now, due to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s industry-oriented redesign of our national science agency, the popular education facility has been senselessly closed.

The centre, which opened its doors in 2001 and shuttered them likely for good last week, is among the first casualties of the recent misguided makeover of the National Research Council. The federal government announced in May that the NRC, once a leader in pure research and science education, will now dedicate itself to large-scale industry-driven research projects, effectively transforming its $900-million budget into a business subsidy.