In the year 2009, the world celebrates the International Year of Astronomy
as it commemorates the 400th year - since Galileo’s use of a telescope to
study the skies.
Visiting the Palomar Observatory in North San Diego County is a learning
experience worth seeing as it has given us many significant Astronomy
discoveries and it is a marvel of technology. Thanks to the Rockefeller
Institute of a 6 million dollar grant way back on April 28, 1982 we now
have many significant discoveries. The Hale Telescope enabled the discovery
of hundreds of asteroids and a minor planet and has given us a glimpse to
seeing other galaxies light years away from our own as it can let us see
1 million times further than with the naked eye. Mt. Palomar is actually
called Palomar Mountain but popular culture gave it the incorrect name
Mt. Palomar which is used on some newscasts.
The Hale Telescope is the largest telescope at the Palomar Observatory,
named after astronomer George Ellery Hale. The 200-inch (5.1 m), f/3.3
telescope was the largest operating telescope in the world from its completion
The BTA-6 was developed and made operational in 1975 surpassing the size
of the Hale Telescope but because of defects in its mirror the Hale telescope
was the best on earth until the completion of the Keck 1 telescope in 1993.
It is interesting to note that the Corning Glass Works Hale telescope's 200
inch Pyrex mirror had to be built twice because the first one cracked in the
manufacturing process. There was another big delay in the building of the
Palomar Observatory, which was World War II. Building had started in 1938 and
finally got finished in 1948.
The Palomar dome is 135 feet tall, which is about 12 stories high, 137 feet in
diameter weighing in at approximately 1,000 tons, with a plate steel exterior
and aluminum panel interior, separated by four feet to allow for dome venting.
Two 125-ton shutters cover the opening and slide open at night to allow light
through the slit and into the dome. The top section of the dome rotates on two
circular rails. The Hale Telescope is a 264 inch tube 62 feet long, weighing
150 tons. It's 200 inch Pyrex mirror weighs 14 3/4 tons and has an accuracy of
surface 1/200,000 inch. The entire telescope with mounting weighs in at 500
tons. The Hale telescope can look into space up to 1 Billion light years. One
light year = 5000.000.000.000 miles.
It is cold in the dome creating a consistent weather environment for the 200
inch Pyrex mirror so that it will not be stressed by heating and cooling.
The Palomar Observatory has been a better location than that of the Mt. Wilson
Observatory 100-inch telescope used by Hubble because the Palomar Observatory
is further away from Los Angeles and all of Los Angeles night light glow. New
observing instruments and technology are now being unveiled making the
Mt. Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains viable again.
The Hubble Telescope is in an ideal location because it is away from all of the
interferences of the earth.
It was interesting to learn that the twinkling of stars we see at night is
actually an illusion as heat waves emit in convection currents from the earth
making it look as if stars do indeed turn on and off. The sky's and vista's
from Palomar are majestic and worth visiting.
The Observatory is located within the Cleveland National Forest on Palomar
Mountain in north San Diego County at an elevation of 5,500 feet above sea
35899 Canfield Road
760-742-2119. Hours Daily 9 am-4 pm. Closed Dec. 24-25.
The Next Generation: Giant Magellan Telescope, Location: La Serena, Chile:
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a ground-based telescope planned for
completion in 2018. It will consist of seven, 8.4 m (27.6 ft) diameter primary
segments, with the resolving power of a 24.5 m (80.4 ft) primary mirror. The
telescope is expected to have over four times the light-gathering ability of
existing instruments. The confirmed location of the telescope will be the Las
Campanas Observatory, which is also the site of the Magellan telescopes, some
115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile. Much as for previous notable
telescopes, the site has been chosen as the new instrument's location because of
its clear weather throughout most of the year.