Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mt. Wilson Observatory: A Great Adventure

The grand finale of the Mt. Wilson Observatory tour is the 100-inch telescope. Here, Edwin Hubble worked to discover his theory of the expansion of the universe. Yep. Major important stuff.

Notice anything different about how the roof of this facility opens, as opposed to the roof at the 60-inch I posted about the other day? Our guide, Observatory Superintendent Craig Woods, explained that after the 60-inch was built it was discovered that this vertical opening, as opposed to the horizontal one at the 60-inch, made for a stronger structure. 

By the way, Craig has been known to climb up to the top of the roof. 
But he's no fool, he gets strapped onto a safety catch.

The 100-inch (that refers to the diameter of the mirror) is a big telescope, though there now larger ones in the world.  

John took this picture of me and Craig at the 100-inch.

He also took a couple of great panoramas of the inside of the telescope housing. Click on these to enlarge. 
They're pretty cool.

This one really shows how big the space is. Craig and I are over on the left. We're looking into a hole in the floor. It's a sort of trap door big enough for a giant to keep his lunchbox in. The Observatory is keeping the top part of the 100-inch telescope there.

The two telescope-looking things here really are scoping devices for the 100-inch. And there are buttons. And stuff. I was just trying to explain Steampunk to Craig when we came upon this.  

I think if any one thing can convey Mt. Wilson's past, present and future importance it's this building, this telescope. Hubble's discovery was seminal. He made it here, sitting on a bentwood chair, measuring the movements he saw in the skies. There may be more powerful telescopes in the world now, but even those still observe what he discovered here.

We met Larry S. Webster, the Site Manager for CHARA, the Center for high Angular Resolution Astronomy, a project of Georgia State University. Larry has been with Mt. Wilson for 37 years. He lives there, with his wife and daughter. (What a childhood! That kid is on a first name basis with every squirrel on the mountain.) Larry told amazing stories about a building in Pasadena that was once part of the Carnegie Observatories. Just before the building was to be torn down, with all the old records in it, Larry went in with a flashlight (because the electricity had already been turned off) and rescued everything he could fit on his truck. He couldn't get it all and some things were lost. But many precious papers, records, and items are now preserved, thanks to him. I hope these will one day be part of a Mount Wilson Museum and archive here on the mountain.

There's a board of directors. They are thinking of ways to keep the place alive. Let's listen for the call and take part when it comes.

For now, join the Friends of Mount Wilson Observatory. Take a day to go on up there. It's a vigorous hike, or a leisurely drive. Have a hot dog, chili, or pie at the Cosmic Cafe. 

 And enjoy your discoveries.


Pasadena Adjacent said...

Fascinating to see it open up. Is that about the extent of how wide it opens? I also wonder why they chose that shade of blue - or who chose it. Maybe Mount Wilson has a designer who makes those calls.

Shell Sherree said...

It's really rather mind boggling ~ so easy to forget people with minds like Edwin Hubble's are everyday people, sitting on a bentwood chair in exactly a place like this, discovering things that mean nothing will ever be the same again. I wonder what he ate for lunch. Peanut paste sandwiches and an apple, perhaps. Those panoramas of John's are fabulous, too !

Petrea Burchard said...

It opens wider, PA. You can kind see the steel band that goes up center left. At least that far if not farther. As for the blue, I was wondering that, too. In the 100-inch building all is steel, gray, and blue. In the 60-inch, more oranges and yellows.

Shell, I believe you're right! A simple lunch, coffee... Mr. George Ellery Hale, who was so instrumental in designing and building Pasadena, and the Observatory, and making it all possible, might have eaten fancier.

William Kendall said...

Spectacular interior shots, Petrea... and what a view!

Petrea Burchard said...

It's definitely worth the drive!

LOLfromPasa said...

Fantastic series, Petrea. So informative and what a wonderful collection of photos throughout. Will be grabbing John so he can have a look too. One of his favorite places to visit in US. Nice work!

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks so much, Lauren. It's a wonderful place to visit.

Jeremias de Leon said...

Wow, everything there looks like such good material to draw or write about for a sci-fi story.

Petrea Burchard said...

Good thinking, Jeremias! The place really sparks the imagination, as has for generations of astronomers, and for those still working there.

Anonymous said...

It really is an amazing place, with fantastic views below as well as above.

Ms M said...

Thank you so much for taking us on your tour! What a fascinating place! You took great photos, too!

Petrea Burchard said...

Have you been there, Geoff? You sound like you have. Next time, let's go together!

Ms M, thank you. I had fun!