If you find yourself in the Okanagan today, you could be in for a treat. An internationally renowned observatory is opening its doors to the public, for Saturday only: Pentiction’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO).
The observatory, founded in 1960, is home to four telescopes of a quality that most people will never see. The observatory, operated by the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics of the Canadian government’s National Research Council, gained early fame because it was, in conjunction with the University of Toronto and Queen’s University, where the first trans-continental Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations. VLBIs are still used for tracking spacecraft, imaging distant cosmic radio sources, and for various applications in astrometry.
Today, the DRAO is best known for the huge (25.6 metre) John A. Galt Telescope, which is named after its first employee, astronomer John Galt, who died in 2012. It’s a prime-focus, equatorially-mounted, single-antenna telescope with interchangeable feeds from 408MHz to 6.6 GHz.
The observatory’s other telescopes are the Synthesis Telescope, which uses wide-field imaging to study interstellar medium and nearby galaxies, and the Solar Radio Flux Monitor is used primarily for space weather applications by the United States Department of Defense, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The observatory is providing a facility for the university community to come in and do a world-leading experiment and world-leading science. That’s really what we’re all about.
The DRAO is also home to the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment, a project that began in 2013 to observe billions of year of history to look at the expansion of the universe (something, incidentally, that scientists this week declared was happening much faster than they previously thought).
“Something happened to make our universe so big and so old, and something’s happening now to make its expansion accelerate,” says UBC astrophysicist Dr. Mark Halpern. “It’s the basic working of what makes the universe be the way it is that we’re trying to understand.”
The telescope built for the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment is the $11-million CHIME, a radio telescope with a footprint larger than six NHL-sized hockey rinks. It uses electromagnetic radiation to map the distribution of hydrogen in the universe by measuring radiation emitted by far-flung galaxies.
“The CHIME telescope will be the most sensitive instrument in the world for this type of research and the DRAO is one of the best sites in the world for this research,” said another UBC astrophysicist, Gary Hinshaw, at the time it was launched, in 2013.
Taken as a whole, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory is a world-class facility, says its operator.
“The observatory is providing a facility for the university community to come in and do a world-leading experiment and world-leading science, says the director of DRAO, Sean Dougherty. “That’s really what we’re all about.”
The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory 717 White Lake Rd in Cawston, BC, about an hour’s drive from downtown Kelowna.
Below: “Calling ET” Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory