York University to house largest campus telescope in Canada

Astronomy students at a Toronto university will have a new way to probe the cosmos. But that also means that the public will be able to peer deeper into space.

New 1-metre telescope expected in 2018

The domes housing two telescopes at York University's campus in Toronto. The 40-centimetre telescope will be replaced by a new 1-metre telescope next year. (York University)

York University in Toronto will soon be the new home to the largest telescope on a Canadian university campus. 

On Thursday, the university announced that in 2018 a new one-metre telescope will replace an older 40-centimetre (0.4- metre) telescope used to conduct astronomical research as well as public outreach.

The new telescope will be larger than the current university record holder, the 0.8-metre telescope housed at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

While it's not a competition for who holds the largest telescope, what's important is the light-gathering capacity of a telescope: the larger the mirror, the more light it gathers and therefore the more detail it's able to draw out. And more light-gathering is better in areas with high light pollution.

The university currently has two telescopes: a 40-centimetre one and a 60-centimetre one. The new one-metre, custom-built telescope will increase the reach of projects and study by students.

York University's 40-centimetre telescope, seen here, will be replaced by a new one-metre, custom-built telescope in 2018. (York University)

"Students are going to be able to do more things from a research perspective, and therefore get more excited," said Paul Delaney, a senior lecturer in the university's department of astrophysics and astronomy. 

"There's nothing worse than to be searching for something and you can't find it because you just don't have the reach with your telescope. Well, that's all going to disappear in large measure with a one-metre class telescope."

The new telescope will give the public a better view of the cosmos as well.

"The public is going to be equal winners in this. Because, again, bigger is better," Delaney said. "We'll now be able to look at galaxies, something that we have a hard time doing at the moment."

Those living in and around the city can peer through the new telescope themselves each Wednesday night.

But for those who aren't able to get to the campus, each Monday night the university will host live, online viewing, and it will take requests for what to look at. 

With the new telescope, which will also be equipped with a CCD camera, the public can see images from across the universe such as distant galaxies.

"Saturn, something that everybody loves, will become much larger than life, because of course, we'll be able to see greater detail of the ring system," Delaney said. 

"We'll be able to look at [Jupiter's] Great Red Spot in ways that we haven't been able to show them before. And those are just relatively nearby objects. The reach of a larger telescope from the public's perspective would just allow us to show them the majesty of the objects that we can see in textbooks on a regular basis now."

The new telescope is thanks to a donation of $500,000 from the Carswell Family Foundation, which was matched by York University and the faculty of science.

"We're very excited," said Ray Jayawardhana, dean of science at the university. "The observatory already has such a big impact, particular in community engagement... It's such a hub of activity and impact that it's really nice to be able to invest in, to make the impact greater. So it's going to be fun."


Nicole Mortillaro

Senior reporter, science

Based in Toronto, Nicole covers all things science for CBC News. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books. In 2021, she won the Kavli Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for a Quirks and Quarks audio special on the history and future of Black people in science. You can send her story ideas at