There are people, as Oscar Wilde famously said, who know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
So, with that in mind, I made my way to the top of Little Saanich Mountain last weekend to bid a bittersweet farewell to The Centre of the Universe, due to close its doors at the end of August, one of the least deserving victims of Ottawa’s spending cuts.
The Centre of the Universe is the low-budget but high-yield — at least in public goodwill for the sciences — interpretive centre that was launched just over a decade ago for the National Research Council at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and the Hertzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Canada’s leading centre for astronomical research.
The centre runs summer astronomy camps, provides engaging instructional support for all grade levels up to Grade 12 physics, hosts public lectures, provides internships for students, and is deeply engaged with the 145-year-old Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the association of science amateurs that is recognized for many important contributions to observational research and education.
I wrote about the centre when it opened in 2001. I even took my 11-year-old daughter up for one of the centre’s “Star Parties,” a sleepover for kids that introduced them to the Perseids meteor shower with tours, sky-watching, a late-night movie, snacks and breakfast, all for $35.
She had a great evening and so did I, watching the immense Plaskett Telescope, once the world’s biggest, rotate to give us brief looks at deep space objects too dim to see, all enhanced into spectacular pictures by the high-tech digital imaging.
Inside, interactive displays let kids pick up a meteorite, experiment with the refraction of light, play with the spectrum and the Doppler Effect, and correct the curve of a telescope lens to eliminate star twinkle, learning hands-on how these tools are used to study quasars, pulsars, black holes and the universe itself.