Posted April 21, 2009

Palomar Observatory

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Palomar Observatory 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 in 1948. 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 level. Street Address: Palomar Observatory 35899 Canfield Road Palomar Mountain CA 92060-0200 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.

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