Students set to do “galaxy hunting” on largest telescope at a Canadian university


Media invited to experience York University’s new $1M telescope before public opening

 TORONTO, September 30, 2019 – York University is expanding its foothold in astronomy with a shiny new one-metre, custom telescope which boasts the most powerful optical performance ever experienced at a university campus in Canada.

For students, astronomers and members of the public, the new PlaneWave PW1000 fully-automated telescope will provide a deeper view into space to see clearer images of distant galaxies and cosmic objects.

Student Sunna Withers looks through York's new telescope.

Media are invited to York University’s Allan I. Carswell Observatory on Tuesday, October 1 to learn how the telescope works, look through the telescope lens, and hear from Faculty of Science students who are using the telescope to see more detailed images of space. For these students, the new instrument means more hands-on learning experiences and more undergraduate research opportunities.

Media will also hear from second-year students who are doing “galaxy hunting” classroom assignments where each of the 30 students in the class is assigned to locate a different galaxy in the night sky, image it and learn its unique characteristics.

In a role reversal, Sunna Withers, a 21-year-old science student, will show York University Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell how to do “galaxy hunting” using the new telescope, which was funded through a $500,000 donation from the Carswell Family Foundation. That donation was matched by York University and the Faculty of Science, for a total investment of $1 million.

Some students used to spend hours using York’s older telescope searching the night’s sky for distant galaxies – almost as difficult as finding a needle in the haystack. The new telescope is a huge upgrade for the students because it means less time searching the night sky and more time analyzing the data thanks to the telescope’s pointing accuracy from the high-resolution absolute encoders on each axis.

As a physics professor at York, Allan Carswell worked out of the Petrie Science and Engineering Building next to the Observatory that now bears his name.

“Everyone is awestruck by the night sky,” said Carswell. “It stimulates a sense of our place in an unimaginably vast universe. Teaching astronomy to our youth is an ideal introduction to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.”

The media event will happen one day before it opens to the public on Wednesday, October 2 (public viewing is 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.). Members of the public should note that the Observatory has a new registration process that requires guests to reserve their free tickets online due to the limited capacity in the Observatory’s dome. While the public viewings on October 2 and October 9 are already at capacity, members of the public are encouraged to register for future public viewing dates.

Watch a video with student Sunna Withers explaining why galaxies are important:

See a video with Professor Paul Delaney talking about how the new telescope benefits students:

Download two images of NGC 7331, a spiral galaxy about 40 million light-years away, captured on the new 1m telescope and on the older 40cm telescope.

WHAT: Unveiling of York University’s new, one-metre telescope

WHEN: Tuesday, October 1 at 11:30 a.m.


  • Allan Carswell, York University Professor Emeritus, Carswell Family Foundation
  • Paul Delaney, Professor, Faculty of Science
  • Sunna Withers, Student, Faculty of Science

 WHERE: Allan I. Carswell Observatory, York University, located on the third floor and north-west corner of the Petrie Science and Engineering Building, 4700 Keele Street (see #17 on this Map). Paid visitor parking is available at the Arboretum Lane Parking Garage or the Thompson Road Lot (see #80 or #79 on this Map).

RSVP: Please RSVP to the media contact below as space is limited.

York University champions new ways of thinking that drive teaching and research excellence. Our students receive the education they need to create big ideas that make an impact on the world. Meaningful and sometimes unexpected careers result from cross-disciplinary programming, innovative course design and diverse experiential learning opportunities. York students and graduates push limits, achieve goals and find solutions to the world’s most pressing social challenges, empowered by a strong community that opens minds. York U is an internationally recognized research university – our 11 faculties and 25 research centres have partnerships with 200+ leading universities worldwide. Located in Toronto, York is the third largest university in Canada, with a strong community of 53,000 students, 7,000 faculty and administrative staff, and more than 300,000 alumni.

York U's fully bilingual Glendon Campus is home to Southern Ontario's Centre of Excellence for French Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Media Contact: Vanessa Thompson, York University Media Relations, 647-654-9452,