Astronomy -- especially the opening of the Dominion Observatory, in
Ottawa, in 1902 -- was essential for the surveying and westward expansion
of our country.
When the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory opened in Victoria BC in
1918, its 1.83m telescope was the largest in the world; this marked
the beginning of serious government investment in basic astronomical
When the University of Toronto's David Dunlap Observatory opened in
Richmond Hill, Ontario in 1935, its 1.88m telescope was the second-largest
in the world (and the Victoria telescope was third-largest); thus, university
research in astronomy developed in parallel with government research.
Canadian monitoring of the radio emission from the sun at 10cm wavelength,
started in 1946, is still used internationally as a measure of the "activity"
of the sun; Arthur Covington (Ottawa) was the driving force behind this
The Canadian Impact Crater Program, started in 1951, established Canada
as a leader in this field -- a field which is of increasing interest,
since impacts can have profound effects on life on earth. This program
was initiated by C.S. Beals, one of Canada's foremost astronomers.
The opening of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton
BC in 1960, and the Algonquin Radio Observatory in Algonquin Park ON
in 1966, led to major scientific developments, such as the discovery
of complex molecules in interstellar space.
In 1967, the Penticton and Algonquin Radio Telescopes were linked to
create the first Very Long Baseline Interferometer -- providing a thousand-fold
increase in the ability of radio telescopes to see fine detail.
The opening of the Observatoire de Mont Mégantic in 1978 marked
the creation of the first major centre of astronomical research in French-speaking
The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which saw "first light"
in 1979, provided Canada with a share of one of the most powerful and
productive telescopes in the world. Canadian astronomers developed special
instruments to extend the power of this telescope, including a technique
which has since been used to discover almost a hundred planets around
The Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, opened in Toronto
in 1985, is now a world leader in understanding planetary systems, stars
and their life cycles, and the origin and evolution of the universe.
Canada has a share in the Gemini telescopes -- giant 8m telescopes
located in Hawaii and in Chile.
The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), located deep within a nickel
mine, is the world's most powerful detector of neutrinos -- subatomic
particles emitted by nuclear reactions in the sun and stars, and in
supernova explosions; it recently solved the "solar neutrino problem"
-- the apparent lack of neutrinos from the sun (it turned out that many
neutrinos change form during their flight from the sun, and are not
Far-Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer satellite studies the universe
at far-ultraviolet wavelengths; it was the first astronomical satellite
in which Canada had a share.
The ODIN satellite, launched in 2001, observes the universe at sub-millimetre
wavelengths; it was developed in collaboration with astronomers in Finland,
France, and Sweden, and is the first satellite in which Canada played
a significant role in design, construction, and operation.
In 2000, Canadian scientists recovered the Tagish Lake meteorite on
a frozen lake in British Columbia; this meteorite was later found to
be the most primitive meteorite ever recovered -- almost unchanged since
the formation of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
Sidney van den Bergh (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics,
Victoria) is a world leader in studying the distance, classification,
nature and evolution of galaxies -- the basic building blocks of the
Paul Boltwood, an amateur astronomer from Stittsville
ON, has developed and applied sophisticated astronomical imaging techniques,
making his small telescope outside Ottawa as powerful as the largest
professional telescope of a generation ago; he is a winner of the international
Amateur Achievement Award.
Richard Bond (Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics,
Toronto) is an internationally-known cosmologist who has contributed
to our understanding of the universe -- especially using the cosmic
microwave background radiation (the radiation left over from the Big
Bang) to understand the properties of the universe.
Tom Bolton (University of Toronto) co-discovered the
first example of a black hole in space. David Crampton and John Hutchings
(Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, Victoria) discovered the first
black hole in a galaxy other than our own.
Canadian astronomers Ermanno Borra and Paul
Hickson developed a telescope with a giant rotating mirror
of liquid mercury -- much cheaper than a conventional telescope of similar
Terence Dickinson (Yarker, Ontario) has written hundreds
of newspaper articles, and more than a dozen books -- including NightWatch
with over 300,000 copies printed; he has won international awards, and
is a Member of the Order of Canada.
Martin Duncan (Queen's University, Kingston) and Scott
Tremaine (now based in the US) did pioneering work on the nature,
origin, and evolution of the billions of comet nuclei in the outer solar
Montreal astronomer Gilles Fontaine is internationally-known
for his studies of white dwarfs -- burned-out stellar corpses such as
our sun will be in five billion years.
Canadian-born astronomer Wendy Freedman is a leader
of the Hubble Space Telescope's "key project" to determine
the size scale and age of the universe.
Canadian astronomers Brett Gladman and J.J.
Kavelaars have discovered almost half of the known satellites
The late Helen Sawyer Hogg (University of Toronto)
was probably Canada's best-known astronomer, as a result of her internationally-recognized
research on globular star clusters, her leadership in astronomical organizations,
and her weekly article which appeared in Canada's largest newspaper
for 40 years.
Canadian-born amateur astronomer David Levy has discovered
or co-discovered over 20 comets, including Shoemaker-Levy 9 which crashed
into Jupiter in 1994; he is also a prolific writer of books and articles
The late Andrew McKellar (Dominion Astrophysical Observatory,
Victoria) was the first to measure the temperature of interstellar space
-- 2.4 degrees above absolute zero; this was actually the first measurement
of the temperature of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.
The late Peter Millman was a world expert on meteors,
using visual, radar, and spectroscopic techniques; he laid the groundwork
for a whole series of important projects on meteors, meteorites, and
meteorite impact craters.
Jack Newton, an amateur astronomer based in British
Columbia, is a world leader in astronomical imaging techniques, using
both film and electronic cameras; his work has appeared in many books
and articles, and he was a recipient of the international Amateur Achievement
The late John S. Plaskett (Dominion Astrophysical
Observatory, Victoria) discovered the most massive pair of stars known
-- still known as "Plaskett's Star(s)". With colleague J.A.
Pearce, he made the first accurate determination of the mass,
size, and rotation of our Milky Way galaxy.
Quebec-born astrophysicist Hubert Reeves has been
called "the Carl Sagan of the French language" as a result
of his highly-praised and widely-read books and articles.
Ian Shelton (University of Toronto) discovered the
brightest supernova in 400 years, on February 23, 1987.
Don Vandenberg (University of Victoria) is the most-cited
(in research papers) astronomer in Canada, as a result of his fundamental
work on the structure and evolution of stars.
The late Isabel Williamson, an amateur astronomer
in Montreal, nurtured and trained a whole generation of amateur astronomers
in Montreal, including comet discoverer David Levy.
The Canadian Network for Observational Cosmology is
a leader in determining the fundamental properties of the universe through
the study of distant galaxies; other teams of Canadian astronomers have
used the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation for this same purpose.
Canadian astronomers have developed widely-used software for image
analysis, notably Paul Stetson's DAOPHOT; they have
also developed the Starry Night sky simulation software,
which is used by amateur astronomers and students around the world.
This list does not include Canada's many contributions to space science
and technology, including one of the first satellites (Alouette), the
Canadarm, the International Space Station, and the Canadian astronaut