Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Photo Essay: Mt. Wilson & Observatory

My recent tour of Griffith Observatory made me recall a couple of the other local observatories I'd visited but hadn't posted about: Mt. Wilson and Mt. Palomar. I'd gone out of my way to see both of them (and, in the case of Mt. Wilson, twice) but, at the time, didn't feel like I had much to say about them.

In retrospect, gazing up at the stars - and chasing the moon - has strongly characterized my time in Southern California, with enough dark sky communities to spot meteor showers and hike in the moonlight.

With all of these mountains bringing us to higher elevations, it's no wonder our gazes turn upwards.

Unlike the public Griffith Observatory, Mt. Wilson Observatory has a long history as a research facility, and is still operated by the Mount Wilson Institute under an agreement with the Carnegie Institution of Washington. (It also hosts a number of public events and docent-led tours.)

Three solar towers - a 60 foot, a 150 foot, and a snow solar telescope - were built to study the magnetic pull of the sun...

...but Mt. Wilson is home to the better-known and more spectacular 60-inch and 100-inch telescopes (the latter of which was the largest telescope in the world from 1917 to 1948). Built by George Ellery Hale and John D. Hooker respectively, these telescopes provided a way for man to try to understand the starry blanket that tucked them in every night, and facilitated amazing discoveries in the sky above and in the Universe as a whole.

And at just under 6000 feet above sea level, Mt. Wilson also provides a way of understanding the world below, as you teeter off the edge of it...

...hiking along the Sturtevant Trail to Echo Rock...

...and rounding the rim back through a maze of passages through the telescopes.

Can you look both up above and down below at the same time?

Are we bound only by where the cloud line lies?

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