Last updated: 26 July 1998
On Saturday, 25 July 1998, I took part in a very special tour of Palomar Observatory, home of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. The tour was arranged and sponsored by Griffith Observatory and the Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO). This year is the 50th Anniversary of Palomar Observatory and while no public events are planned, the Observatory agreed to host this special tour. And what a special tour it was!
Three buses left Griffith Park in Los Angeles early Saturday morning for the 3-hour drive to Palomar. On my bus John Mosley of the Griffith Observatory staff was the "tour guide". During the ride he presented some history and background on Palomar. Once we started up the mountain, the views were spectacular. But they were nothing compared to what we saw once we arrived at the Observatory.
The size of the observatory building is impressive. The people entering the Observatory are dwarfed by the dome. Once you are inside you see a bust and plaque dedicated to George Ellery Hale.
Then you proceed up the stairs to the Visitor Gallery located at the outside edge of the building interior. This is as far as normal visitors get. But for our special tour we continued through the Visitor Gallery right onto the floor beneath the 200-inch telescope! Chairs were set up for us beneath the telescope so that we could eat lunch and then listen to some guest speakers.
In the view to the right you can see the instrument cage at the Prime Focus. The telescope is pointed straight up. A portion of the east fork mount is visible at the upper left. The interior of the dome was only dimly illuminated so many of my photographs had to be digitally manipulated to make some details visible. This view also shows some of the guests walking about beneath the telescope, proving that we were really that close. A close-up of the cage is visible below.
The view on the right is looking up from the floor. It shows the structure of the interior dome surface. On the left side is a portion of the dome shutter.
Following lunch we had a special presentation. Dr. E.C. Krupp of the Griffith Observatory staff made some introductory remarks and then introduced the main speaker, Dr. Maarten Schmidt. I should mention that during lunch I managed to corner Dr. Schmidt. I had brought with me a copy of the March 11, 1966 issue of TIME magazine, showing him on the cover. I purchased this issue while a senior in high school in 1966 and had kept it all these years, never expecting to actually meet Dr. Schmidt. He was surprised that someone actually had this. Dr. Krupp noticed us talking and also became excited about it, even taking several photographs of Dr. Schmidt and myself holding the magazine. During his introduction of Dr. Schmidt, Dr. Krupp told the audience that I had brought it and how much of an honor it was for Dr. Schmidt to have made the cover of TIME.
Dr. Schmidt talked about the observatory and his experience discovering Quasars back in the 60s. It was fascinating to hear firsthand how this discovery came about.
Following the presentations, we were allowed another special treat. We proceeded up the stairs to the catwalk which goes around the circumference of the dome interior. Then a technician began rotating the dome and moving the telescope in Right Ascension and Declination. When the dome began moving it was so smooth that your first reaction was that the telescope mount was moving. Of course this is incorrect. It was actually the catwalk attached to the dome that was moving. As the dome rotated we were provided with ever-changing views of the telescope and mount.
We then went onto the catwalk outside the dome and walked around the exterior of the dome. From here we could see the three other telescopes: the 16-inch and 48-inch Schmidt telescopes, and the 60-inch reflecting telescope.
And so ended the day at Palomar Observatory. It was indeed a special day and a special tour of one of the world's greatest astronomical treasures. Many thanks go to the FOTO and Palomar Observatory staffs.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Palomar!
Go back to the Observatory Visits page.