Tuesday, 20 May 2014

New Life at the Centre of the Universe

Lauri Roche of the RASC Victoria Centre speaks at the Centre of the Universe on May 3, 2014. Lana Popham Photo

On December 11, I wrote about the Centre of the Universe astronomy educational centre near Victoria at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

The National Research Council of Canada had closed down the Centre of the Universe last August, accompanied by a lot of controversy in Victoria and elsewhere. By the time I wrote about this in December, an effort by various community groups and individuals had led to a plan to reopen the Centre of the Universe under new management this summer.

On Saturday May 3, when the Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada observed International Astronomy Day, the public returned to the Centre of the Universe for the first time since its closure. Daytime activities had taken place at the Royal B.C. Museum, and evening activities for the public, including talks inside the Centre of the Universe building and tours of the historic Plaskett Telescope, took place at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

The weather didn't cooperate with our plans for observing, but more than 200 members of the public came to the CU anyway. I was pleased to lead one of the tours of the 1.8 m Plaskett Telescope, which this year is celebrating the centennial of the beginning of its construction. Among those present that evening were Don Moffatt, whose petition last summer drew public attention to the closure of the CU, and Lana Popham, the Member of the B.C. Legislative Assembly who has given strong support to community efforts to revive the CU.

The strong attendance was a powerful endorsement of the efforts of those working to keep the CU going. Further Saturday night observing sessions will take place this summer - rain or shine - on July 5, 12 and 19, August 2, 9 and 16, and September 6. These events will begin in the evening and include tours of the Plaskett Telescope and observing the night sky. 

The CU itself won't be open on these evenings, because it will be used by the University of Victoria's Science Venture program to offer week-long camp programs to kids in Grades 3 to 8 during the summer. Enrolment is still open!

Information on the Science Venture programs is here: http://www.scienceventure.ca/spaceventurecamp/

While the CU is open this summer, much more work needs to be done to flesh out a long-term plan to keep the CU open in the years following this one. While the NRC has agreed to provide limited support to the CU in the future, a new organization will have to run the CU. I hope that this organization will soon be up and running.

I will continue to write about the efforts to revive the Centre of the Universe as events warrant.

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