While the fate of historic Yerkes Observatory near Chicago hangs in the balance, it seems that another astronomical landmark will soon disappear.The University of Toronto has announced that the David Dunlap Observatory, situated north of Toronto, Ontario, and the home of Canada's largest optical telescope, is to be closed and sold. The proceeds will be used to establish the Dunlap Institute at the U of T, which will focus on astronomical research, teaching, advanced training, and public outreach. The Institute will continue to honor the legacy of the observatory, a gift donated by Jessie Dunlap to the University in 1935 in memory of her husband, David.
The official reason given for the closure is that light pollution from Toronto has rendered the observatory unsuitable for academic and research purposes. According to John Percy, an astronomy professor at the U of T, there is still good research being done, but he admits it is limited. And while the instrumentation attached to the 74-inch (1.88-meter) telescope has been constantly upgraded, it remains a 1930's telescope.
Percy says that for many years the astronomy department has been considering how to best continue the legacy of the Dunlaps with the funds that would be raised from the sale of the lands. "I have been making a strong case for education and public outreach, to continue the work of the Observatory in this area," he added.
Still, the closure of the DDO, as it's affectionately known, is another blow to astronomy enthusiasts in the Toronto area, who have already suffered through the closure of the McLaughlin Planetarium in 1996. Currently there are no plans for a new planetarium, leaving Canada's largest metropolitan area bereft of a major facility dedicated to public astronomy.