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Where to next on Vancouver Island: Observatory Victoria

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•  Victoria
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Centre of the Universe | Victoria

Plaskett telescope on top of observatory hill in VictoriaHave you ever looked up from almost anywhere south of Saanich and noticed a bright white dome high on the hill? Have you ever wondered what’s in the dome? The answer. A 100-year-old telescope and the Centre Of The Universe.

In 1918, the final piece of the 64-ton telescope was transported by horse and buggy up the grueling 440 foot in elevation to the top of Observation Hill. In June of the same year, the largest operating telescope in the world was in service.

Just behind the observatory is the interpretive center, home to planetarium shows, historical video, historical models and a large room packed full of interactive displays about space.

Summer Tours of the Plaskett Telescope

Victoria Centre of the Universe observatory The Centre of the Universe consists of two public buildings, including the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the interpretive centre.

In the summer, from July to September, the Victoria Observatory welcomes visitors to the Interpretive Centre to take part in guided tours of the Plaskett Telescope and partake in an interactive experience with displays, videos and more.

Hours:
July-September
Tuesday to Friday, 10 am-3 pm.
Admission prices range from $0 for children to $15 for adults.
For more information, visit centreoftheuniverse.org.

Access to Observation Hill

Cars
The entrance to Observation Hill is gated and owned by the federal government. During business hours (weekdays 8 am – 5 pm), members of the public can drive to the top of the hill to visit the observatory or take in the views.

Pedestrian and Cyclist

Dominion Astrophysical ObservatoryPedestrians and Cyclists can access a smaller gate to the left of the road even after the main gate is closed. After-hours offer safer road conditions for cyclists to push their limits, climbing to the top with the reward of the view at the end.

Hikers will find a mixed trail of road, dirt paths and stairs to make their way to the top, and a loop behind the observatory.

The after-hours pedestrian access can be closed due to dry fire conditions. For closure updates, check the NRC website

Observatory Hill Trail Loop

All Trails has info on Observatory Hill Loop and lists it as a 4.2km route that follows a very steep trail up but has great views at the top. The road is excellent after hours when the gate is closed, and there is no traffic other than cyclists taking advantage of the traffic-free climb. The loop takes you past the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and into the forest on the north side of the hill.

The after-hours pedestrian access can be closed due to dry fire conditions. For closure updates, check the NRC website

Victoria Observatory Dominion Astrophysical Observatory hill map

Saturday Star Parties

During the summer, the Friends of the DAO – Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, host Star Parties. There is no cost to attend, and it offers activities for adults and children, including guest presentations, dome tours, and they may bring out RASC Telescopes, weather permitting.

To discover more about the next Star Party, visit centreoftheuniverse.org. There is no charge but you must pre-register through YepDesk.

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Our Summer Visit to this Victoria Observatory

enjoying the view of Victoria on Vancouver Island from the Victoria ObservatorySince moving to Vancouver Island a few years ago, every time I drive around Victoria, I look up and see the white observatory dome high on the hill. I‘ve always been curious about what it‘s like up there and what the telescope looks like hidden under the dome during the day.

Well, in mid-August the stars finally aligned, looking for something to do with two young teenagers full of curiosity, we made our way up Interurban Road catching quick glimpses of the white observatory dome on the hill.

We were happy to see the gates were open and started to drive up the narrow windy road; close to the top, we drove past a large government building that I later found out was the Herzberg Astrophysics lab. This wasn’t our planned stop, so we continued until we couldn’t go any further and parked right next to the giant white dome.

After getting out of the car and taking only a few steps, the views were breathtaking. They looked over greater Victoria and were well worth the drive up.

Center of the Universe Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Interpretive Center displaysI had no expectations when reaching the top, so I was excited to see how large the interpretive centre was. And the amount of fun and interactive displays even kept the teenagers busy.

The tour of the telescope was about to start, and we gathered around I was in awe of the history and technology that went into this site over 100 years ago.

The tour inside the Victoria Observatory was fascinating as we climbed the steep stairs to the second floor (an elevator is installed for accessibility) to see the Plaskett Telescope. It was impressive but what really stood out was how important this telescope was for discovering secrets of the Milky Way Galaxy in the early 20th century. Astronomers and physicists came from all around the world to learn from the Plaskett Telescope.

Our visit proved to be fun for the whole family. In fact, my teens wanted to circle back to complete some of the interactive stations cut short by the start of the By the end of our visit, even the two young teenagers enjoyed the tour and the interpretive center. In fact, they wanted to go back to complete some of the interactive stations cut short by the observatory tour.

Plaskett fun facts that blew me away

  • When built, the Plaskett Telescope was the largest in the world
  • It remained one of the world’s largest for three decades
  • Victoria was chosen for the location due to its temperate weather and sharp view of the stars
  • The original mirror (found at the entrance of the interpretive centre) weighs almost 2000kg and took four years to grind and polish to the precise measurements for the telescope
  • The telescope is still used daily (weather permitted) and is now 10,000 times more sensitive

 

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Modified: May 17, 2024
Last Visit: August 11, 2023

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