Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Plaskett Telescope

I was up there again today with my third son Stephen who went as part of a field trip with his school today.  One advantage of him going to SIDES is that he gets lots of field trips, about one a month.   Anyway, we visited the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory today and I had not realized that the Plaskett telescope is still one of the largest in Canada and it is 92 years old now.   In fact, among conventional observatories, only the U of T David Dunlap Observatory is bigger and then only 5 centimeters.  

There is a much larger one in Vancouver, the Large Zenith Telescope will be 6 metres across.   This is not a traditional optical telescope, but a spinning liquid mirror so it can only point straight up.   Great for a cheap to have amazing resolution for one point in the sky, but you can not track anything.

The telescope here on Little Saanich Mountain is still within the top 100 largest telescopes on earth, I think it is about 75th out of the standard optical telescopes currently in use.

I have known about the telescope since I was in physics at UVic in the early 1980s and I have visited it about a dozen times over the last 27 years and I have always known the story that for six months in 1918 it was the largest telescope on earth, what I never knew is that is still a very significant sized telescope globally and close to the largest in Canada.  It is classic Victoria, we have a very significant telescope and one of the few large ones near a city.

The story that it was once the largest is not true, it was close to being number one, but Mount Hooker was in operation before it was.    The Plaskett telescope was still in the top five in 1950.  Even in 1970 it was the 15th largest in the world.  When I was doing field trips to Victoria in elementary school we never visited it, but it would still have been close to being in the top 20.

We have this amazing thing here in town and we are doing a crap job of letting people know about it, but that seems to be about par for the course for this town.
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