Our History

1970

Alan Clark was assigned the task of designing an observatory to support the new astronomy undergraduate program. This led directly to the generous offer of a quarter-section of land by Sandy Cross, a prominent rancher and long-time citizen with deep connections to the early history of Calgary. The adopted name of the resulting observatory incorporates the family name of Rothney in recognition of this initial gift.

1971

Alan Clark and Gene Milone made the first astronomical observations on the new site by establishing the N-S line for the piers of the 16 inch telescope. This telescope was subsequently installed into the dome and a classroom was placed next to a multi-pillar terrace for student observing.

1972

The Rothney Astropysical Observatory was inaugurated on Jan. 7, 1972 with a dedication ceremony on site. Dr. Margaret Burbidge, director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, attended and unveiled a sundial to mark the official opening. At that time, the observatory consisted of a joined pair of trailers for a classroom and office, a Minnaert observing terrace and, thanks to provincial matching funds, a 41 centimetre telescope and dome for astronomical research. Clark and Milone became responsible for operations.

Image of the 0.4 metre Clarke-Milone Telescope and the dome that houses it at the University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory located at Priddis, Alberta in 1972.

1981

The National Research Council of Canada decided to finance the construction of a new facility. The facility would house a one and a half metre telescope capable of operating in the infrared range. Alexander Rothney Cross signed on to the project by making another donation. The Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake also provided a gift: a Baker-Nunn camera that the armed forces had used to track satellites in the sky.

1987

The one and a half metre telescope was operational. The physics department changed its name to the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Most of the research work focused on the study of stars, x-ray sources, possible black holes and planetary nebulas. The telescope was still equipped with a metal mirror, and its optical qualities were considered less than optimal at that time. The decision was made at to replace it with a new mirror.

1993

A new mirror was delivered to the observatory. Once again, Alexander Rothney Cross contributed to the project. Construction was completed by the Department of Physics and Astronomy workshop.


Image of dignitaries inside the telescope dome while attending the opening of the University of Calgary Astrophysical Observatory in Priddis in 1971.

1996

The telescope became operational.

1997

The telescope was baptized as the Alexander Rothney Cross Telescope. The new telescope is used to observe gravitational lenses, asteroids, comets and variable stars. It is also used in the search for planets outside our solar system.


2001

The observatory was awarded a $175000 grant. This was matched by similar amount in donations from faculty, departmental and other sources. This included donations from the Science Research Investments Program, Alan Hildebrand, the Faculty of Science, the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Analog Devices through Mike Smith, Infrared Labs through Alan Clark, and Torus Inc. This enabled the observatory to resuscitate the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking camera, as well as fully automate the ARCT and 41 centimetre telescopes.

2002

Dr. Milone received approximately $400000 from the Government of Alberta, the University of Calgary and private donors to build the interpretive centre.

Construction of telescope dome in 1971.

Image of a crane lowering a piece of a telescope frame into the open door of a telescope dome at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory at Priddis in 1971.

2003

The Department of Geology and Geophysics developed a direct, high speed, line-of-sight data link to dedicated servers on campus to permit both reliable and constant data transmission from the seismometer array. This development permits remote and robotic telescope operations.

2005

The interpretive centre opened to the public.

2006

The interim director Rene Plume steps down and Phil Langill takes the helm as the director of the observatory. The role and purpose of the observatory transformed with public programming and outreach activities. These new initiatives continued the tradition of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory as an educational institution.


2008

The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory was proud to receive the ASTech award. We continue towards excellence with the valued feedback of teachers, students and all those who visit the observatory.

2008

Rob Cardinal was looking for an asteroid using the Baker-Nunn telescope, but ended up finding a comet. This was the comet discovered at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory and only the second Canadian discovery of a comet, using a Canadian telescope, in nearly a decade. Rob discovered a second comet in 2010.

2013

The Canadian Space Agency launched the CAScade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer also known as CASSIOPE. The data that the satellite collects while soaring over and inside the Earth's aurora and space weather is studied by the observatory’s scientists.

 


Image of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory at Priddis, Alberta in 1994.
Image of telescopes University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory located at Priddis, Alberta in 1972.
Image of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory at Priddis, Alberta in 1994.