Dunlap Observatory, RIP

While the fate of historic Yerkes Observatory near Chicago hangs in the balance, it seems that another astronomical landmark will soon disappear.

Dunlap Observatory
When it was built in 1935, the David Dunlap Observatory's 74-inch (1.88 meter) reflector was once one of the largest telescopes in the world.
David Dunlap Observatory
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.

3 thoughts on “Dunlap Observatory, RIP

  1. n p childs

    This is a bit sad to hear, but inevitable really and probably way past due. One of the last times I was in Toronto I couldn’t even find the DDO because of the all the development around it, and I grew up there and visited it several times. Light pollution has been an issue there for decades; I’m surprised it took them this long to make this decision.

    Some of my favorite memories are of visiting the DDO as a child in the 60′s and 70′s and marveling at the massive scope inside the dome. There’s probably thousands of people in Canada my age and older who visited the DDO for school. I also remember meeting Helen Hogg there as well, a legend in astronomy circles in Canada.

    Hopefully the building and the telescope will somehow be preserved even though the land is being sold, closing the DDO is just sad; losing it all together would be tragic.

  2. Toomas Karmo

    There are a lot of issues here. I have analyzed them on my private Web site, http://www.metascientia.com, in an essay entitled ‘The Future of the David Dunlap Observatory:Corrections in Language from the University of Toronto Press Release of 2007 September 10′.

    As a precaution against server failure. http://www.metascientia.com is mirrored at http://www.interlog.com/~verbum.

    I make this posting as a private individual, not represeting anyone or any group.

    Sincerely, heartbroken,

    Toomas (Tom) Karmo

  3. Mark W

    I defiantly agree that it is sad the DDO is closing. I do not however think that it should be sold. I think preserving it not only for its history but also for what ir still can offer to schools in the surrounding area would be a good idea. If it is not being used for research, it could still be kept as a learning tool for those who have not experienced anything like it before.
    I understand that the upkeep for research purposes is costly, but what about some sort of museum. History should be kept not removed.
    Also, I am unsure of what the land was sold for. What is going in its place?
    On any note, aging is inevitable but it’s a shame that it could be gone forever.

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