Stargazing at the Dunlap Observatory

At 8 p.m, as lights across the Greater Toronto Area went out, the international space station sailed across the darkening sky above the David Dunlap Observatory.

Dunlap Observatory

More than 400 people showed up at the Richmond Hill observatory last night for Earth Hour; more than double what organizers hoped for.

Lineups to peer through the outdoor telescopes were dozens deep as families took turns gazing at Saturn.

A native fire burned in front of the large white dome.

Many came in support of the observatory and the island of nature around it, which local environmentalists and heritage activists are trying to preserve as a landmark heritage site.

The land is currently owned by the University of Toronto and may soon be sold.

“This is where the earth meets the sky. That people want to spend Earth Hour here shows there is a obviously a call for it [to stay an observatory]” said an organizer with the observatory defenders’ group.

“This will be sold to a developer, and that is what our fight is to protect against,” she said.

The University of Toronto has declared the facility surplus and are putting the observatory, and the 75 hectares of parkland surrounding it, up for sale to the highest bidder. Despite support by the town through restrictions on lighting and emissions that might cloud its view of the night sky, urban growth around the observatory has reduced its scientific value.

But the property is worth up to $100 million on the open market. Which is money the town doesn’t have. They ideas on frustrating the sale and development of the property but at the end of the day its going to happen.

There are a number of groups that have joined the fight. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada would like to see it become a community observatory to provide astronomy outreach and education.

A group called Save the DDO want to see the David Dunlap Observatory preserved as a historic landmark, an operating observatory for scientific research, and a natural landscape for the people of the GTA to enjoy.

And the Richmond Hill Naturalists see the need to preserve the site for greenspace as there is so little of it left.

Save the Dunlap Observatory

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