The National Research Council, operator of the Herzberg research centre and Dominion observatory, has committed to reopen public outreach and to have someone available to operate the historic Plaskett telescope on Saturday nights for the public, either by an NRC staff member or a trained volunteer. The details have yet to be worked out.
Gregory Fahlman, director general of the NRC Herzberg astronomy astrophysics programs, said the intention has always been to open the Centre of the Universe building for the public, it’s just the “how” which needs to be worked out.
“There’s a sense … that a plan had been made, but I would say it’s more like the outlines of a plan. There is a plan to get a plan,” Fahlman said. “At least there is a consensus as to how this large group can move forward.”
“Everybody recognized that the draw is the (Plaskett) telescope, the observatory,” said Nelson Walker, president of the Victoria branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Volunteers from the society, who are at the facility regularly on Saturday nights using their own telescopes, will potentially take on public outreach roles, Walker said.
“The NRC professional staff of the Centre of the Universe is who did that, and they’re not there,” he said. “We feel bad about the staff leaving. We don’t fancy just stepping into their shoes, but who knows. That’s what we’re discussing.”
A tentative plan emerged from a meeting on Saturday at the observatory. NRC vice-president Dan Wayner, flew in from Ottawa to speak with about 30 local stakeholders, including University of Victoria professors, astronomers, educators, parents and others.
The Centre of the Universe houses interactive educational displays and historic astronomy artifacts. It was closed to the public in August, due to funding cuts from the federal government. The Plaskett telescope was also closed to public tours.
Reopening the centre would happen without any direct funding from the federal government. Closing the centre saved the NRC’s $900-million budget about $230,000 per year, mainly from staff wages.