Montreal

Mont-Mégantic Observatory saved by federal funding

The federal government has stepped in to fund the Mont-Mégantic Observatory, saving it from closing.

Biggest North American telescope east of the Mississippi facing budget deficits of half a million dollars

The Mont-Megantic Observatory, shown in a recent file photo, could have been forced to close without funding help from the federal government. (Peter Ray/Canadian Press)

The federal government has stepped in to fund the Mont-Mégantic Observatory, saving it from closure.

Earlier today, the director of the renowned Quebec astronomical research centre said without additional funds, it would be forced to close by April 1, 2015.

René Doyon said the observatory faces a shortfall of approximately $500,000.

The observatory appealed to their local MP, Christian Paradis for new funding.

Funding partnership underway

Late Wednesday afternoon, the federal government committed to working with the observatory to keep it open.

A spokesman for the government, Maxime Robert, confirmed Ottawa's involvement, but didn't divulge specifics in the funding arrangement.

Olivier Hernandez, who is in charge of the observatory's funding, said he "aged 10 years" in one day, due to the stress of possibly closing.

He said he's pleased the government came through but hopes the observatory can work out a permanent funding model.

Well-known observatory

Founded in 1978, the mountaintop observatory boasts a 24-tonne telescope and is one of the most important facilities on the East Coast.

Lorne Nelson, a physics professor at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Que., told CBC News that the telescope has been used in many important discoveries. A notable one was a "super Jupiter" gas giant found orbiting a dwarf star at a record distance last year.

Nelson said the telescope is crucial for testing instruments used on many bigger telescopes in places like Hawaii.

It is also used to train student astronomers. The thesis work of about 40 students may be at risk because of the closure.

At the moment, the telescope is largely funded and administered by the University of Montreal and University of Laval. It has struggled financially since 2008, when the federal government cut the program that funded it.

Since then, it has relied on a $12-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which is actually intended for new infrastructure, Doyon said.

With files from the Canadian Press

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