Ask Pippa


The David Dunlap Observatory

January 2008: On a trip to the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) in Richmond Hill, Pippa learned just how valuable a place this observatory is. Sitting on 190 acres of land full of wildlife, the DDO has been used for 72 years by astronomers to study the stars. Many important discoveries have been made there, including the first evidence for the existence of a real black hole, studies of supernovae, and the creation of a catalogue of stars that is used by astronomers around the world. Now, the University of Toronto (UofT) is in the process of selling the DDO and the land around it to a land developer. There are no plans to preserve the DDO, nor the land or wildlife around it.

Why the DDO is important:

Astronomy: The DDO is home to Canada's largest telescope, and is a working observatory doing valuable research. Even though there are houses nearby and light pollution, the DDO uses technology that can collect light from stars regarldess of light pollution. Last year, DDO astronomers published 19 scientific papers based on discoveries using the DDO telescope. These papers are used by scientists around the world. Astronomers there are currently working on numerous projects, including one for NASA.

History: Running for 72 years, there are a lot of important stories about the DDO, famous astronomers who have worked there, the University of Toronto's role, as well as samples of older technologies that should be preserved. If torn down by developers, all this will be lost.

Environment: The 190 acres of land the DDO sits on is the home to deer, foxes, eagles, owls and other wildlife. If developed, the homes of the animals will be destroyed, and there is no place for the animals to move to.

How can you help?

Check out the homepage of the Richmond Hill Naturalists for tips on how to write letters to help save the DDO. Write to people at the UofT and politicians. Make sure you cc your letters to your local newspaper (the letters to the editor page), or to the newsdesk of your local TV and radio stations (check their websites for contact details). Act soon, because the UofT is in the process of accepting bids from developers.

There are options. Help the allies of the DDO get the time needed to help turn the site into a either heritage site or park with a working observatory. You can also check out the Save the David Dunlap Observatory Facebook group for updates on rallies and other activities.

Learn more about the issue. Here are links that will help you learn about all sides of the issue:

* DDO homepage.

* Richmond Hill Naturalists (a group of naturalists wishing to preserve the land, and protect the wildlife and plants)

* Save the DDO (a group representing people from the Greater Toronto Area).

* Royal Astronomical Society (Toronto chapter)

* University of Toronto, Governing Council. The reasons for the sale as discussed at a meeting. See page 9.