Friday, August 5, 2011
Mt. Wilson Week: Solar Telescope
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.