Mount Wilson Trip – An Explore Scientific Event

“Like buried treasures, the outposts of the universe have beckoned to the adventurous from immemorial times.”

– George Ellery Hale, Founder Mt. Wilson Observatory

In three months before the Mt. Wilson Observatory event, there was not a cloud in the sky. The day before the Mt. Wilson event and the day after the Mt. Wilson event, skies were “mostly” clear. On the day of the event, a New Moon, at one of the most historic observatories in the world with a “to-salivate-over-for-eons-observing-session” with the 60-inch telescope, the fog was as thick as Hubble’s pipe smoke. (Kudos to John Bills, who canceled his flight two days before because of bad weather and personal hurdles. If you ever want the right weather forecast, email JB.)

Scott Roberts of Explore Scientific – he has no control over the weather, yet – put together a prodigious schedule for the Mt. Wilson Observatory Event of September 28th for interested astronomers:

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.    Parking and Orientation at the 60-inch Dome, with overflow parking in the main parking lot below; Walk to the Mt. Wilson Museum
  • 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.    Claude Plymate (National Solar Observatory, Tuscon, AZ)
  • 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.      Lunch with our Speakers and Session Staff
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.        Dr. Stephen J. Edberg (JPL)
  • 2:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.        Door Prizes and Book Signings
  • 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.        Dr. David H. Levy Lecture
  • 4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.        Special Tour by Tim Thompson
  • 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.        Light Dinner and Refreshments in the 60-inch Dome; Orientation with the 60-inch; Group Photo
  • 8:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.        60-inch Telescope Observing Session

Despite the lack of observing through the magnificent telescopes, for me and many others from the AAA, including David Shepherd, Brian Berg, Christopher Grisanti, George Hripcsak, John and Maureen Benfatti, Mara Belgrave and Peter Tagatac and others, it was an extraordinarily fulfilling event at a place rich with history. We lunched under the 100-inch in the dome, wondering, what the astronomers looked at in the night sky at 5,700 feet above sea.

George Ellery Hale, a Chicago businessman and self-made astronomer, founded the observatory in 1904; it was the premier astronomical observation site for decades in the early 20th century and the birthplace of modern astrophysics.

The smaller 60-inch telescope, built in 1908, was the largest telescope in the world until the 100-inch, and the workhorse for decades. Edwin Hubble made some of the most ground-breaking observations with the 60-inch, that changed the perspective of mankind with regard to its relationship with the cosmos.

At Mt. Wilson, Hubble identified Cepheids in the Andromeda galaxy, noted that it is too far for the stars to be part of the Milky Way, AND that the universe is expanding, leading to the famous Hubble constant. H-naught (H0) was, according to his calculations, around 500 km/s/Mpc, which led to a wrong estimated age of the Universe, 2 billion years.  Scientists already knew that the Earth was more than 4 billion years old. In 1933, Fritz Zwicky, while examining the Coma galaxy cluster, inferred the existence of unseen matter, which he coined “dark matter.”

The 100-inch was the largest telescope in the world from 1917 until 1948. After some major upgrades, including an adaptive optics system, the telescope is now available for research projects.

The 60-ft Solar Tower still is used, where volunteer astronomer Steve Padilla painstakingly hand-draws consistent and invaluable observations of sunspots.

For more information about the history about Mt. Wilson, please visit www.mtwilson.edu.

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