Friday, September 5, 2008

Palomar's First "First Light"

"First light" is a term astronomers use to describe when a telescope is first pointed at the sky. Seventy two years ago today the 18-inch Schmidt, the first telescope on Palomar Mountain, had its first light as Caltech astronomer Fritz Zwicky began his survey for supernovae.

The telescope has had a long and productive life having been used by many astronomers to make discoveries of supernovae, asteroids and nearly 50 comets. The telescope has since been retired and will eventually go on public display.

Here are a few unique photographs taken by Earl W. Gray (1899 - 1993). Gray worked at Palomar as a building or structural engineer back when construction was taking place on the mountain. His album of photos was donated to the observatory by his family in 1994.
Here is the dome of the 18-inch Schmidt under construction from earlier in 1936. The next photo is pretty unique. It is a photo of the dome of the 200-inch while it was under construction. What it so unusual is that it was taken using the 18-inch Schmidt. It isn't quite into a sharp focus, but I know of no other photo taken using of one research pointed at the dome of another research telescope.

Yes, the 18" used round film. The observatory bought its film from Kodak and then had to cut it into 6-inch diameter circles.

The photo below was obviously taken on a different date, but shows how the 18" was pointed towards the 200" for the photo above.

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