Monday, September 28, 2015

Mt. Wilson Observatory Hideout IV: Farewell for Now

Update 10/2/15: I heard from Ken Evans, Mt. Wilson volunteer (thank you, Ken!). He's always got great info:
"Hi Petrea -  I was looking at your web page and saw your photo of the big bucket outside the Monastery kitchen at Mt. Wilson.  It was used to haul concrete up to the second floor of the Monastery during construction. I have seen photos on the Huntington Library digital images page that show the Monastery under construction. It shows a wood tower with pulleys and cable system to haul the bucket up. The power for the lift was a Model T Ford truck with ballast on the back to give traction.  The truck would drive forward and the bucket would go up. I think the concrete was then poured into wheel barrows and moved where needed."

Thanks, Ken!

Original post:

Last night's blood moon brought crowds to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. The parking lot is always open and it's a good spot for viewing the night skies. The Observatory itself closes to the public at 5pm but last night the staff left the gate open and people wandered, enjoying the grounds. Despite all the light from the city below it's still very dark up here, and fun to snoop. Everyone had a good time even though throughout most of the evening the moon demurely hid its heavenly body behind a tantalizing veil of clouds.

One does not get a good photo of a moon, even a giant blood moon, with an iPhone. You will find all the gorgeous shots you could possibly want elsewhere on the web. So for my last post from the mountain, I thought I'd show you things you won't find elsewhere. Above, that's a giant old bucket thing (technical term) behind the Monastery kitchen. Something from an old well? Chili cooker? The rim of the bucket came up to my waist.

Here's a view from a second floor window in the Monastery. I don't know what it is. You tell me. I like it in black and white. (Ken says these are "...old fashioned heat vents. Some times used on water heaters, or stove flues. I would have to look in the building to see if they are still in use. My guess is no.")

A better view of that drain we saw the other day.

Science moves on, always looking for the newest discovery. That's what science must do. Funding follows the biggest telescope, the latest thing. For the first half of the 20th century and beyond, Mt. Wilson Observatory was the cutting edge of astronomical research, but larger telescopes are now the norm. Important work is still done here (the Solar Telescopes, the CHARA Array, etc.), but the Observatory is in transition. What will it become? A museum of astronomical history? An Observatory? An educational facility? All three? What do you envision?

I'm not sure what's in Mt. Wilson's future, but I know what's in its past: major scientific discoveries that changed the world's understanding of itself and its place in the cosmos. Like Hubble's glass plate proving the expansion of the universe (a discovery he made here, using the 100-inch Hooker Telescope), it's impossible to place a monetary value on that.

I have been more than fortunate to experience this magical place in a private way. There's a lot here to do, see and think about. My endless thanks to those who made it possible.

Come visit, then let's talk some more.

23 comments:

John Sandel said...

What a delightful turning aside from the trammels of flatland life—bashful moon or no.

Bellis said...

Wow,you got so much out of your experience, and we did too. Thanks for sharing. Your photos are intriguing: was the large bucket once the only way they could cook large amounts of stew or, as you say, chili?? It looks really old. I hope someone can tell us what the odd shaped chimneys are. The Observatory should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, don't you think?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

UNESCO World Heritage Site - good idea Bellis.

We may have missed the blood moon - but you caught that spectacular soft sunsetting light on the mountain.

William Kendall said...

That last shot is my favourite of the set.

My housemates and I watched it from the backyard- up to the clouds moving in just as it was in its last sliver. A few minutes later we got enough of a parting of the clouds to see the full eclipse.

Petrea Burchard said...

JS, I don't know how long it will take me to adjust to the flatlands. I begin to think astronomers who do telescope work like it for more reasons than just looking at space.

Bellis, I don't know what the bucket is. I was joking about chili. It might have been part of a well, but it's so big and heavy I can't picture it. Someone said the chimneys are for letting out sewage gases but there aren't that many toilets in there, so I don't think that's it. Could be some kind of ventilation, though.
Yes! UNESCO World Heritage! Brilliant idea, Bellis.

Thank you, PA. That's looking east. You probably know that.

William, it sounds like you had a wonderful evening. This moon was not what I would call a spectacle. I think of it more as gracious, an artist.

altadenahiker said...

Over here, the moon lit up the whole street. Bright, bright. Dogs howled, cats dived from one side of the street to the other. I like all your photos.

Margaret said...

Clearly I've missed something. Must dig deeper.

Petrea Burchard said...

It sounds like Altadena was the place to be for the eclipse, Karin. Later on it got very bright on the mountain, like a spotlight. But the blood moon part was a quieter event up there.

Margaret, thank you for digging deeper.

Bellis said...

The eclipse helped a friend of ours who was observing on the Magellan telescope in Chile. Observing was difficult with the supermoon as bright as day, until the eclipse. It gave him two hours of great observing!

Did you see a library in the Monastery? I've heard that some of Hale's personal books are in there. Other books that belonged to Hale are for sale on the open market (google Abe Books). Richard was given one about a Venetian artist, as a leaving gift from a student. What a great present (but sad that Hale's books have been split up).

Petrea Burchard said...

There is a library, not in the monastery but near it in the same restricted area. I didn't see it this time as it is kept locked. John and I saw it on a previous visit. I took the photo of the map in this post (http://bit.ly/1O5QrKG) in the library.

Don't picture an impressive, cozy library. It's a room with shelved books and bland ceiling lights. A small collection of Hale's books is there, along with an old piano and a dilapidated pool table. Adjacent is another room with rolled-up maps and plans (with Ritchey's name on them—the engineer and builder of the 60 inch telescope and more at the Observatory). Many of these items were saved from destruction when Carnegie tore down one of its buildings in Pasadena, along with everything in it.

At this time there is no funding for preserving or curating these treasures. They are simply locked in this room for now.

José Mendonça said...

Lovely set of shots, Petrea. My favourite is #4.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, José. I can't choose a favorite, of course. I wonder if you feel the same way about your photos. I remember taking each one, and each has meaning for me.

Petrea Burchard said...

This post has been updated. Thank you, Ken Evans!

Petrea Burchard said...

Bellis, I hope you're following comments. Ken Evans shared more info about the library!!!! Extra exclamation points!!!
"you made reference to the Library. You were in the one by the machine shop/Engine Room known as the Power House [quite true, we were]. That library is for staff reference and general use. There is another library in the Monastery adjacent to the kitchen and table area. That has many of Hale's books and more shelving was built to house more books that came from Carnegie."
THIS IS GOOD NEWS TO ME. I'd like to see it but if I never do, I'm just thrilled that it's still there.

llandudnopictures said...

Interesting old images in the library and a fine selection from yourself too... I especially like the bucket story, great that it's still there!

Petrea Burchard said...

Isn't it, though? The blog is greatly enhanced when readers contribute information.

Anita Davison said...

Beautiful photographs - the one with the bucket reminded me of Sir Christopher Wren being hauled up to the roof of St Pauls in a basket in the late 1600's. Health and Safety would have had a field day in those days.

Irina Rekhviashvili said...

How interesting to read about the life on other, peaceful planets. Your story keeps me sane in my little crazy galaxy of Russia trying to find any possible enemy.
This Observatory series is so rich with information, facts and beautiful photos.
Good luck!

Petrea Burchard said...

Even now, Anita! I remember walking up the stairs inside St. Paul's dome and thinking "You could never do this in America. Someone would find a way to sue you."

Irina, let's comfort ourselves in knowing that from where we sit on opposite sides of the planet, we can see the same stars.

Ms M said...

Love your photos with this! All of it wonderful and fascinating.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Ms M. I hope to add more soon.

Shell Sherree said...

The bucket story is charming !! A simple solution ~ I love it. And the 2nd floor Monastery shot in black and white has me expecting to see Hitchcock appear from the shadows. Beautiful, Petrea.

Petrea Burchard said...

Thanks, Shell. I was so happy to be there.