The genesis of the Dunlap institute for astronomy & astrophysics
1921 – CONVOCATION HALL, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
Professor Clarence Chant, known as the father of Canadian astronomy, delivers a public lecture on the near-Earth comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke. In the audience is Ontario lawyer and successful mining investor David Alexander Dunlap. Dunlap is so taken with the lecture, he introduces himself to Chant and says he would like to help him in his quest to build a world-class observatory in Ontario. But three years later, before making a firm financial commitment, Dunlap passes away.
David Dunlap’s widow, Jessie Donalda Dunlap, makes a donation in memory of her husband, to finance a state-of-the-art observatory within easy traveling distance of the University of Toronto. They agree on a location, just east of Yonge Street in present-day Richmond Hill. Chant sets about fulfilling his long-time dream.
1935 – RICHMOND HILL, ONTARIO
The David Dunlap Observatory opens, with a telescope that has a 1.9-metre (74-inch) mirror, the largest in the Commonwealth and second largest in the world. U of T astronomers go on to use the observatory to map out the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy, demonstrate that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole, and do ground-breaking work that helps establish the rate at which the universe is expanding.
International aviation makes distant locations around the world much easier to reach. U of T astronomers join international teams to build observatories on high mountains in northern Chile and Hawai’i—remote locations with exceptional viewing conditions. Meanwhile, Toronto continues to expand, and light from the city makes the Dunlap Observatory less and less useful for serious scientific observation.
U of T astrophysicist Peter Martin, co-founder of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA), becomes director of the David Dunlap Observatory, and the University begins discussions with the Dunlap family to continue their grandparents’ legacy.
The University and the Dunlap family agree to sell the observatory property, with the proceeds forming an endowment fund to establish the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. The new institute focuses on designing and building astronomical instruments, training the next generation of astronomers, and public education. It forms the third pillar of U of T’s astronomy enterprise, alongside the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and CITA.
… and how in 2018 its scientists search the cosmos for revelations
CHIME, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment
A ground-breaking radio telescope located near Penticton, BC, built by a team that includes the Dunlap Institute’s Professor Keith Vanderlinde.
CHIME is mapping the largest volume of space ever surveyed—a three-dimensional swath of the universe that covers half the sky and is billions of light-years deep. That means it can add yet another dimension, time, to produce a “four-dimensional” map of the expansion and evolution of the universe over some four billion years of its early history.
The Dunlap Institute’s Professor Roberto Abraham and Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University literally drew up this innovative telescope on a napkin. Today, it is the world’s largest multi-lens array telescope, made up of 48 commercially available Canon telephoto lenses, and located in the New Mexico desert. Dragonfly images distant areas of space through multiple lenses at once, like a dragonfly’s compound eye, which allows it to filter out unwanted light. The results include a startling discovery made just last year: the first known galaxy without any dark matter.
South Pole Telescope 3G
The severe conditions in the Antarctic make it an ideal location for observing the Cosmic Microwave Background—light from the universe when it was only 380,000 years old. The extremely cold atmosphere holds very little water vapour, which blocks radio waves from space. Plus, the South Pole is located on a 2,800-metre-high plateau, so the atmosphere is alpine thin. Professor Keith Vanderlinde and Dunlap fellow Tyler Natoli are investigating the early Universe from the here. Dunlap PhD student Matt Young visited the telescope last year to install a new camera.
Twin optical/infrared telescopes, each with an 8.1-metre mirror, located on two of the best observing sites on the planet—mountains in Hawai’i and Chile.
The Dunlap Institute is leading the development of an infrared spectrograph for the observatory in Chile, called the Gemini Infrared Multi-Object Spectrograph, or GIRMOS. The spectrograph will help study the formation, evolution and merger of galaxies, back to the time when galaxies were first forming. GIRMOS will serve as a precursor to the IRMOS spectrograph, a high-priority instrument for the Thirty-Meter Telescope, now under construction in Hawai’i.
Square Kilometre Array
Dunlap Institute director Professor Bryan Gaensler leads Canada’s participation in the effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope.
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be located in South Africa’s Karoo region and Western Australia’s Murchison Shire, some of the most remote desert locations on Earth. Its antennas will eventually extend throughout Africa, and allow astronomers to monitor the sky in greater detail and much faster than ever before. The SKA will allow scientists to test Einstein’s theory of relativity, study the formation of the very first stars and galaxies, and greatly speed up the search for other forms of life in the universe.