Friday, August 5, 2011

Mt. Wilson Week: Solar Telescope

I haven't described the Mt. Wilson Observatory landscape to you.

On a mountain top, wooded paths lead you amid the pines, and occasionally there looms a tower like something from a 1950's "Mars attacks" movie. You're not scared because it's sunny out, everything's in color and you can see the paint is peeling on the props.

If I have my notes right (I might not, this is why I'm not an astronomer)*, this is the 1904 Snow solar, the first telescope built at Mt. Wilson. I believe it still works. Mt. Wilson is an important, fully operational observatory even now, 107 years after its founding. So much so that when the Station Fire singed the crackly edges of its environs in 2009, many firefighters risked their lives to save it.

*I've gotten a note from Bellis, who knows: this is not the 1904 Snow telescope but the 1912, 150-foot solar tower/telescope. It's all for the best that I didn't pursue a career in astronomy--you may not believe this but I did once consider it.

From inside the dome at the top of this tower, the Mt. Wilson live towercam brings news and joy to the lowlanders. If you check out the towercam during the day (and you're not reading this twenty years from now) you'll detect green mountains in the foreground and brown ones not far in the distance, showing you some of the 250 square miles of Station Fire burn from 2009. There's some green on those hills, but they've got years 'til full recovery.

The Mt. Wilson website's history page is temptation to keep reading. George Ellery Hale founded Mt. Wilson. Edwin Hubble made historical discoveries there. Albert Einstein paid a visit. Talk about stars.


dive said...

Boy, I love this series of posts, Petrea. Being an astro-geek I feel like a kid in a candy store. I can't wait for more.
If anyone's wondering why we'd bother looking at the Sun through a telescope (don't try that at home, by the way), check out this site

Shell Sherree said...

And what a glorious day, Petrea! I'm so glad it escaped the Station Fire. It's both useful and lovely.

Petrea Burchard said...

Good morning, Dive and Shell. Ah--shouldn't say that, I can't wrap my brain around what times it is in your two parts of the world.

Dive, I wish you hadn't sent me that site. I'll be at it all day. Did you find the bee?

Shell, "useful and lovely" is an apt phrase. It's like an antique desk at which one sits to study the universe. You might find a newer one, but not a sturdier.

Steven said...

Looks like a great place to visit. Lots of history too.

Steve Scauzillo said...

I've been away on vacation so I've missed your "Mt. Wilson Week." I've got to get up there again. Your pix are so inviting.

Petrea Burchard said...

Steven and Steve!

Yeah, it's such a cool place. The only other observatory I've ever visited is Mt. Palomar, which isn't far from here and also lovely and interesting. The history is one of the many things that makes Mt. Wilson so inviting.

dive said...

Yes, I found the bee, Petrea, poking its bottom out of the bottom as it were.
Just watched the Juno launch live. Too exciting. Now geeky spaceboy needs to go take a lie down.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

I have read back over your posts from Mt. Wilson and enjoyed all of the history. My dad was with the space program and as a result we were always up at night with him "observing" the night sky activity.

(I was going to say this looked like the Eiffel Tower, but decided not to - hehe)


Bellis said...

Love the way the tower looks even taller when aligned with the steps. I watched Huell Howser in California Gold going to the top in an ancient (well, 1912) lift that's more an open box. Not going to go there!

Petrea Burchard said...

Sweet dreams, Dive.

Genie, how interesting to hear that about your father! (And of course this is slightly newer than the ET, but only slightly.)

Bellis, thanks for your information! You want to know something about Mt. Wilson, you just ask Bellis.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I like this tower because on a clear day it's visible to us from down below. Plus I met the guy who runs the telescope at one of those (fill up the parking lot) amateur astronomer nights.

Petrea Burchard said...

PA, I thought Bellis knew all the coolest people but now I think you do.

John Sandel said...

Once again,Ii'm with Dive. Astronomer geeks rule!

Ms M said...

I love this little "trip" you're taking us on with this series!