News From Space: Center of the Universe Closing!

center_universeYeah, that title might be a bit misleading. Technically, the news comes from Earth, but has everything to do with our study of the heavens. And this story comes to you from my own neck of the woods where – just a few kilometers from my house – the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is about to shut down due to budget cuts.

Typically, it goes by the name of Center of the Universe, a national historic site and a hub for astronomy education in Victoria. And at the end of the summer, in what I can only say its a tragedy, it will be closed to the public for good. The National Research Council (NRC) put the official closing date at the end of August, right after the last of the student summer camps ends.

center_universe2In addition, the facility houses historical artifacts like the original 1.8 metre mirror from the Plaskett Telescope and runs historical tours, multimedia shows, and youth programs. Unfortunately, this all costs about $32,000 to operate and $245,000 in employee wages, and brings in only about $47,000 per year in revenue. This gives the NRC a deficit of about $230,000 a year for this facility alone.

Naturally, Charles Drouin, spokesman for the NRC in Ottawa, said that the decision did not come easy, but was necessary. He confirmed that the active astronomy facility and national historic site will have no public outreach come late August or early September, and locals and visitors will no longer be able to tour the Plastkett Telescope, in operation since May 6, 1918.

center_universe3On the bright side, the historical artifacts and displays in the Centre of the Universe building will remain in place after the facility is closed. The NRC will also be working with local community groups to find volunteers to use the space, so it will remain in operation, though in a limited capacity. This much is good news, since the loss of the site in its entirety would be an immeasurable loss for this community.

Interestingly enough, Drouin also claimed that the decision to close the facility was unrelated to the federal governments announcement in May to reorganize the NRC as an “industry-focused research and technology organization.” In short, the budget-driven decision is not being blamed on funding cuts or the desire to privatize. I wonder…

center_universe1Personally, I am sad and ashamed to hear this news. The wife and I have been saying for ages that we need to go to this place and take a tour. Granted, that is not the easiest thing in the world to arrange, what with all the booked tours and the way the place seems to have an odd schedule. But you’d think we could have arranged something by now. It’s a national observatory, and right in my backyard for God sakes! To think we might have missed our chance is just plain sad…

However, there is still time, and I strongly recommend that anybody in the Saanich, Victoria, or Vancouver and Island region get their butts out and do what they can to see the place in operation before it shuts down. No telling what kind of hours and limited services it will be offering once its got only volunteers manning it. We need to take a gander at this star-gazing facility now before we lose the opportunity!

And be sure to check out their website too!


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