101 Reasons Why I Like Living in Victoria BC - #11. The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory

Real Estate Sales Representative with RE/MAXCamosun (Chatterton)

At one time in history Victoria was home to the world's largest telescope. In 1918 the 1.8 meter Plaskett Telescope was housed in the newly erected Dominion Astrophysical Observatory atop Little Saanich Mountain, just a few miles from downtown Victoria. The honour was short lived. A larger one was soon erected atop the summit of Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii.

image of dome under construction

Today Victoria’s observatory houses two telescopes, the original Plaskett Telescope and the 1.2 meter telescope and McKellar Spectrograph. The latter was assembled in 1961.

Both of these viewing devices are used every clear night of the year, which annually averages about 200 nights. Research is on-going year round.

The 1.8 meter Plaskett Telescope had its beginnings in 1910. John Stanley Plaskett completed most of the design work and in 1914 work began in the making of the optics to be used in the telescope. The lens was ground and polished in Pittsburgh, PA and took four years to complete. Improvements to the telescope's mechanisms and detectors in recent decades have increased its sensitivity by a factor of about 10,000 over its original capacities. This telescope can carry out optical imaging as well as spectroscopy (e.g. analysis of the rainbows of the stars). Today it is used in the tracking of asteroids and comets, learning more about the nature of galaxies and quasars, and studying the nature of stars. The telescope is accessible to Canadian and non-Canadian astronomers.

image of observatory

The Plaskett Telescope is open to the public in the summer months through the Centre of the Universe program, which includes telescope tours and presentations in the planetarium and multimedia theatre. It is open to school groups at various times throughout the year.

The 1.2 meter telescope and McKellar Spectrograph is used for “studies of binary star systems in order to determine basic information about stars such their masses, motions, and chemical compositions."[1] It may be controlled in fully robotic mode. This telescope is not open to the public.

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is operated by the National Research Council of Canada Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA). This federal institute also manages Canada's participation in major astronomical observatories in Hawaii and Chile, thereby guaranteeing Canadian astronomers full access to top-notch facilities extending over the entire sky.

image of dome

The Observatory has been chosen as a national historic site in acknowledgment of its significant role in creating Canada's international scientific status in astronomy.

Just another reason why I like living in Victoria BC…

[1] Quote and photos courtesy of the National Research Council of Canada


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Team Honeycutt
Allen Tate - Concord, NC

Interesting blog.  I love your photos.  Good Job.

Jan 16, 2011 06:05 AM #1
Nick T Pappas
Assoc. Broker/Broker ABR, CRS, SFR, e-Pro, @Homes Realty Group, @HomesBirmingham & Providence Property Mgmnt, LLC Hun... - Huntsville, AL
Madison & Huntsville Alabama Real Estate Resource

Ted, great informative post.  I've heard a lot about Victoria BC and this is just one more reason for me to visit some day.  Besides I've always had a huge interest in astronomy.

Jan 16, 2011 06:10 AM #2
Ted Tyrrell
RE/MAXCamosun (Chatterton) - Victoria, BC
Selling Homes in Beautiful Victoria

The Honeycutt Team, thanks for the positive comment.

Nick, you are welcome anytime. I'll be posting soon about a neat way to get to Victoria.

Jan 16, 2011 06:15 AM #3
Bob "RealMan" Timm
Alliance Real Estate - Minot - Minot, ND
Bob Timm, Broker Associate, Alliance Real Estate

That is a cool piece of history Ted. I think it is really neat that both telescopes are still in use.

Jan 16, 2011 10:05 AM #4
RhondaHeaslip NanaimoRealEstate
RE/MAX of Nanaimo - Nanaimo, BC


I've toured this observatory..pretty interesting and pretty fantastic alright!

Jan 16, 2011 01:30 PM #5
Laura Giannotta
Keller Williams Realty - Atlantic Shore - Little Egg Harbor, NJ
Your Realtor Down the Shore!

That would be a great place to visit.  I was out to that area many years ago, but missed the observatory.  A good reason to come back!

Jan 17, 2011 09:44 PM #6
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Selling Homes in Beautiful Victoria
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