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Astronomy in Canada

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Name some Canadian discoveries of outer space! Do none come immediately to mind? You may not know it, but Canada has been involved in exploration of the cosmos since the mid-nineteenth century and continues to build on its discoveries. From ancient civilizations to the Renaissance, to modern times and now into a new millennium, we look to the stars with wonder. In fact, astronomy is an important part of our everyday lives. It has a rich history in Canada, as we shall see.

May 2nd to May 8th 2011 is International Astronomy Week. Hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (founded in 1896), there are celebrations by astronomers, astrophysicists and amateurs alike across the country every night of the week. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is the country's leading William Brydone Jack Observatory / l'Observatoire William-Brydone-Jackastronomical organization. Through partnership with the provinces, the Society aims to promote interest and knowledge in astronomy to better advance the science. The Society includes both amateur and professional astronomers and has managed to grow from 120 to 5,000 members today! With the country's ever increasing fascination with astronomy, Canada has become an international leader in the field of astronomical exploration. So go look up at our night skies and peer into our past, and celebrate this event by visiting these historic places associated with astronomy in Canada:

The William Brydone Jack Observatory National Historic Site of Canada was founded in Frederiction, New Brunswick, in 1851 by William Brydone Jack and is the second oldest observatory in the nation. Building 20, DND / Bâtiment 20, MDNBeating the William Brydone Jack Observatory by just one year as the oldest observatory in Canada is Building 20 which is part of the Québec Citadel National Historic Site of Canada. However, the William Brydone Jack Observatory is historically significant for many breakthroughs such as, making the first accurate longitude measurement in Canada and the creation of the first accurate provincial map of New Brunswick due to measuring that Greenwich was 4 hours, 26 minutes and 33.43 seconds west of Fredericton. The observatory has had an incredible impact on the province through its discoveries and correction of errors in international boundaries, and, in 1984 it was transformed into a museum to display this important aspect of Canadian culture.

The Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, Ontario was the first major observatory built in Canada. Opened in 1905, its primary function was to provide the precise time for government departments, but developed to become the nation's main point of reference for accurateDominion Observatory, Wikipedia / L'Observatoire fédéral, Wikipedia timekeeping. Astronomy developed over the following decades and new equipment was procured for the observatory. Emphasis was placed on the study of the sun and the stars. In 1970, the National Research Council took over the Dominion Observatory's timekeeping duties and the observatory was transformed into government offices. The founding of the Dominion Observatory paved the way for Canada's participation in the field of astronomy and the impact this had on our heritage accounts for why so much equipment from the Observatory is on display at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Parks Canada / l'Observatoire-Fédéral-d'Astrophysique, Parcs CanadaOne of the astronomers working at the Dominion Observatory, John Plaskett, was interested in expanding scientific studies in astronomy and went on to become director of a new observatory that was built near Victoria, British Columbia to improve research results in the field. At its opening in 1918, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory National Historic Site of Canada housed the world's largest operating telescope: the Plaskett Telescope. Incredible breakthroughs were made at this observatory: the discovery that our galaxy, the Milky Way, rotates and takes 22 million years to complete one rotation; the distance of the sun from the center of our galaxy; that the temperature of the universe is approximately -270oC; and the discovery of the presence of matter in the universe. This observatory was internationally recognized in the field of astronomy and remained at the forefront of research into the 1960s.

On October 9th, 1957, the Newbrook Observatory in Newbrook, Alberta made an important achievement for Canada by capturing the first photograph in North America of the first earth-launched satellite: Sputnik I. The Newbrook Observatory was built in 1951 on the Prairies so as to cover a large latitude span in order to study the upper atmosphere in cooperation with U.S. researchers. The famous photo demonstrated that Canada was a force to be reckoned with by other countries.Newbrook Observatory, Alberta Culture and Community Spirit

This overview offers examples of significant Canadian advances in the field of astronomy through historic places. We have yet to uncover all the secrets of the universe and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada continues to promote this field to future generations so that Canadians can continue to explore the cosmos.
To become a member if inspired or simply to find out more information about the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, visit their official website: www.rasc.ca.


Canada Science and Technology Museum. "The Dominion Observatory 100th Anniversary." Accessed January 31, 2011. http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/collection/dominion_observatory.cfm

Canada Under the Stars. "The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory." Accessed January 31, 2011. http://astro-canada.ca/_en/a2104.html

Newbrook Observatory. "History." Accessed January 31, 2011. http://newbrookobservatory.org/
University of New Brunswick. " William Brydone Jack: a Man of Many Talent." Accesssed January 31, 2011. www.unb.ca/initiatives/225/stories/jack/index.html