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November 2004

Chris Gainor

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 solar system.

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.


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Last updated: February 26, 2010

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