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,