Monday, November 28, 2011

Mount Wilson Expedition

Mount Wilson Observatory 100 inch scope

I found myself feeling quite thankful this Thanksgiving. Thankful for our time together as a family. Thankful for friends. Thankful for where we live.

Los Angeles is a complex city that draws many people. The weather is typically mild. Gardening is a year round possibility. The city is close to the ocean, mountains, desert and snow. One might spend the morning in the snow, trek down the mountain and head towards the sea to watch the sun slip behind the Pacific. And, of course, the film/television/entertainment industry and tastemakers that shape and curate media imagery also hold a stake in this town.

Although the latter group might skew the perception of the city, Los Angeles offers much more.

150 foot Solar Scope

The clear skies and exceptional viewing caught the interest of George Ellery Hale, who founded the Mount Wilson Observatory in 1904. Mount Wilson stands 5,710 feet above the Los Angeles Basin in the Angeles National Forest with views to the sea and Channel Islands. For over 40 years, Mount Wilson housed the biggest scopes in the world. The eyes of Albert Einstein, Harlow Shapely and Edwin Hubble peered through the eye piece to discover the earth's location in the Milky Way, other galaxies and more.

Over the weekend, we headed up to Mount Wilson Observatory for the last docent lead tour of the season to literally walk in the footsteps of Albert Einstein and other preeminent astronomers and scientists.

In the 150 foot solar scope, scientists continue to gather information about solar sun spots on antiquated equipment. The scientist hired by the man in the picture above let us into the "Computer Museum" to see the Raytheon computer still in operation.

Although the data is still culled using the Hal-esque computer, the scientists transfer the information to an online database.

Inside the 100 inch scope where Hubble worked.

The 100 inch scope is open to tours but no longer in use. Light pollution from the growing city, and the creation of larger scopes elsewhere, have diminished the relevance of the scope for scientific research. Although the 60 inch scope is open for rental to private groups. We are already discussing the possibilities.

Imagine being able to look through the eye piece that so many great scientists have peered through: a small window to the limitlessness of space, light traveling millions and in some cases billions of years, right to your eyeball.

The sun tracked west. We headed down the mountain while sailing through the galaxy.


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