Whether we know it or not, when we peer into
our telescopes we are looking back in time. The moon is only
a few seconds back, the planets minutes, and the brighter
stars a number of years. The light from most of the faint
fuzzies we love to look at is hundreds of thousands or
millions of years old.
My major occupation these days is looking into the past with
books rather than astronomical gear, although I use the
latter when I can. I am studying history at the University
of Alberta with the only professional historian in Canada
whose area of expertise is astronomy and space exploration.
My advisor, Dr. Robert W. Smith, has written histories of
the Hubble Space Telescope and of the �Great Debate� in
astronomy in the early part of the 20th century about the
expansion of the universe. This fall, a new National
Geographic book on Hubble written by Dr. Smith and Dr. David
deVorkin of the Smithsonian Institution is in bookstores.
I have long been interested in the history of space
exploration and astronomy. At the U of A I am learning a
great deal about the wider history of science, and I am
doing some research work on the James Webb Space Telescope,
which will look deeper into the universe than Hubble. Even
though JWST is still at least seven years away from launch,
its history goes back more than a decade already, and I am
helping to preserve that history.
When the Victoria Centre was established 90 years ago, the
Dominion Astrophysical Observatory was briefly the largest
telescope on Earth. There John S. Plaskett made important
findings about the nature of our galaxy. Since then, much
more powerful telescopes have been built and more
discoveries made, many of them with the help of the staff
based at the DAO.
Most of us have been privileged to witness humanity�s first
halting steps into the cosmos, which are continuing with
today�s explorations of Mars, Saturn and other places in the
The knowledge we have gained from these efforts means that
our conception of the universe today is vastly different
from that of the founders of the Victoria Centre. In the
years to come, I hope to do my part in chronicling those
changes and how they came about.
This month, I am stepping down as president of the Victoria
Centre. I want to thank once again our terrific council and
the fabulous members who make our centre a great
organization to be a part of. I know our new council will
continue to do the great job our outgoing and past councils
have done, and I look forward to rejoining you all when I
get back to Victoria in the spring.