Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ice = Still Closed

Temperatures dropped into the teens last night on Palomar Mountain and there is a substantial coating of ice on the roadways and observatory grounds. As a result, we remain closed to the public today.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Observatory Closed Today Due to Winter Weather

A mix of snow, rain, fog & wind is producing potentially dangerous travel conditions on Palomar Mountain today. As a result the observatory is closed to the public today.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - South Yoke

For anyone out there that may have notice the huge drop in the number of blog posts here in teh last two months, other duties that have temporarily come my way over the last few months have dominated all of my time and have kept me from working much at all of my real job. Do not despair as more images, news and history will eventually be returning to Palomar Skies with the kind of frequency that was present in the past.

To help tide people over, here is another history photo showing the 200-inch telescope's south yoke.

The photo was taken in the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company's plant in South Philadelphia on December 20, 1937.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Roads & Holidays

South and East Grade Roads are currently open and the severe weather has passed. You can always check to see it the observatory is open or not by calling our public information recording number (760) 742-2119.

Remember that Palomar Observatory is closed December 24 & 25.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roads Closed

Palomar Mountain has received more than 14 inches of rain in the last few days. At this moment both South Grade and East Grade Roads are closed due to rock and mud slides. With more weather expected, travel in the area is not recommended.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Asteroid 596 Scheila Becomes a Comet

Over the weekend it was reported that main-belt asteroid 596 Scheila was experiencing a comet-like outburst. Solar system astronomers Michael Hicks and Kenneth Lawrence from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory happened to have observing time on Palomar’s 200-inch Hale Telescope last Saturday night and early Sunday morning they captured this image of "asteroid" 596 Scheila looking very much like a comet:

The two main ideas behind Scheila’s cometary outburst are that it is either a rare comet with an orbit inside the asteroid belt that started out gassing or that it has recently suffered a collision like the one in 2009 that befell an asteroid known as P/2010 A2.

Stay tuned.

Thanks to Mike & Ken for being kind enough to share this raw image of the event so soon after it was acquired!

For a related post see also, The Asteroid that Became a Comet and the Comet that Became an Asteroid.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hale Halo

From earlier this week:

Ice crystal clouds forming a halo behind the dome of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. The clouds parted enough to allow for over 12 hours of observing that night in the study of distant frozen worlds in outer solar system in a region known as the Kuiper Belt.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - Eris Discovery

Astrophoto Friday returns today with an animated gif of the discovery photos of dwarf planet Eris. Can you spot it?

Eris is the moving object near the left-hand side of the image.

The discovery of Eris was made by Caltech's Mike Brown and his partners. They first imaged this distant world of the Kuiper Belt using Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope. The discovery rocked the astronomical world and helped to bump Pluto out of its planetary status. Both Pluto, Eris and some other worlds discovered by Mike at Palomar share a new category, that of dwarf planet.

The discovery and the turmoil that followed is the subject of a new book by Mike Brown which will be available on Tuesday, December 7 (both Gerard Kuiper’s birthday and Pearl Harbor day).

Of course, Palomar Observatory's gift shop will be stocking the book - which happens to make a great gift.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2 Short Mirror Wash Videos

Here is a short video showing the 200-inch mirror as it looked just before it was washed nearly two weeks ago:

And another short clip showing the wash in progress:

I recorded a *much* longer video showing the entire wash. Hopefully, I'll get a time-compressed version of that posted soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Under the Big Eye

Here's a rare view of the Hale Telescope that was taken during last week's mirror wash:

The photo was taken from under the telescope (with the camera on the observing floor) when the mirror was pulled out and the mirror cover partially open. On the left (south) is the coudé arch and on the right (north) is the horseshoe.

More photos from the mirror wash engineering run will be posted later in the week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Friday Tours Return

It is the holiday season and we are celebrating by offering special daytime tours of the 200-inch Hale Telescope on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Friday November 26.

Our regular public tours do not resume again until April, so this may be your last chance to get a guided tour of the Big Eye for some months.

Tour tickets will be sold in the gift shop the day of the tour on a first-come, first-served basis. No prior reservations are taken. Tour tickets are $8.00. The tours are not recommended for children under six years of age.

Do keep in mind that it is COLD inside the dome. Temperatures inside, where the hour-long tours take place, are expected to be around 40F. So bundle up!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rough Weather for the Weekend

Dense fog, high winds, heavy rain & snow are all in the forecast for Palomar Mountain this weekend. The National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Statement.

Travel to Palomar Mountain is likely not a good idea for the weekend.

200" Mirror Wash - Update

The washing of the 200-inch mirror was completed on Thursday and the Big Eye is now back in the telescope.

I took several hundred photos of the event and it will likely be sometime next week before the best of them are posted here. In the meantime, let me show you what it was all about with a before and after photo of our 14.5 ton glass mirror.

That is a dramatic difference and a job well done by the Palomar crew.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mirror Wash 2010 - Day 1

The engineering run to wash the 200-inch mirror is going well. Yesterday the mirror was successfully pulled from the telescope. Here are some photos from the first day of engineering.

The Hale Telescope with the Cassegrain instrument and Cassegrain cage removed.

A view of the mirror cell. The 36 mirror supports, serviced earlier this year, are visible.

The mirror cart under the Hale Telescope, ready to receive the 200-inch mirror.

The Palomar crew pushing the mirror cart, loaded with the 200-inch mirror, over to the washing area in the dome northwest of the telescope.

For more immediate updates & photos be sure to follow palomarskies on twitter and/or "like" Palomar Observatory on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Watch the Webcam Today

Here is a capture from the Hale Telescope webcam taken early this morning at the end of a long (12.8 hour) observing session.

Today should be an interesting day to watch the Hale Telescope webcam as we are pulling the 200-inch mirror out of the telescope today so that we may wash the mirror tomorrow.

I'll be posting pictures of the event as they come in.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Allan Sandage, 1926 - 2010

Observational cosmologist Allan Sandage has passed away. In memory of his brilliant career our history photo of the week is 1950s photo of Dr. Sandage in front of the 200-inch Hale Telescope.
You can read summaries of his impressive career from Carnegie Observatories, Nature, Astronomy Now, and Sky & Telescope.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hale Telescope Under Moonlight

Here are two photos of the 200-inch Hale Telescope illuminated by moonlight. Both were taken on Friday November 12, 2010.

The Hale Telescope is used virtually every clear night of the year for astronomical research. The research mission on that particular night was imaging and spectroscopy of ultra luminous infrared galaxies discovered by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - the California Nebula

This week Astrophoto Friday brings us the California Nebula.

The California Nebula (also known as NGC 1499) is an emission nebula consisting largely of ionized hydrogen gas. It was named for its resemblance to the state of California - home to the Palomar Observatory. The nebula is located approximately 1,000 light years from our solar system in the direction of the constellation of Perseus.

The bright blue star Xi Persei (to the right of the nebula) most likely is the source of illumination for the nebula.

This image is a composite from two black and white images taken with the Palomar Observatory's 48-inch (1.2-meter) Samuel Oschin Telescope as a part of the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS II). The images were recorded on two glass photographic plates - one sensitive to red light and the other to blue. The plates were scanned and color combined to produce the image seen here.

Palomar's Beautiful Universe

You may remember Wally Pacholka's panorama of the Milky Way & the dome of the Hale Telescope. It was an Astrophoto Friday image here back in June.

The editors of Sky & Telescope have chosen to place a cropped version of Wally's picture on the cover of the 2011 edition of their Beautiful Universe publication.

You can buy it directly from S&T's online store and it should be in your local newsstands next week.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - On Top of the World

This week's history photo of the week is another photo from the wonderful collection of photos taken by and of Lee A. Farnsworth, Jr. This particular shot was taken September 17, 1942 and that is Lee standing on top of the dome for the 200-inch telescope.

Click to see a larger version and you be able to see some of the structure of the telescope through the partially opened dome slit.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Winter" Visiting Hours Return

Starting Monday, November 8 the observatory return to "winter" visiting hours. We will be open to the public daily (except December 24 & 25) from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

The observatory will also be closed if conditions are hazardous due to things like extreme weather (mostly snow & ice). Look to the blog here for updates if you are uncertain about our current status.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tonight's Delta II Launch - as seen from Palomar

A Delta II rocket was launched tonight from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Here is the view from the catwalk of the 200-inch Hale Telescope:

Click to embiggen (full resolution version is here). Light pollution and cirrus clouds dampened the view somewhat. The top photo is 3 30 second exposures combined. The rocket trail is the line beneath the clouds.

This one is just a 30-second exposure. A higher resolution version of the image is here.

Astrophoto Friday - the Whirlpool Galaxy

M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, is 37 million light years distant but still a jewel of the heavens. Here it is as captured by the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey using Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope.

For those keeping score, the PTF survey has discovered 882 supernovae.

The Whirlpool Galaxy can be found in the northern constellation of Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - the Arrival

Here is a photo taken by Lee A. Farnsworth, Jr in the fall of 1938. It was taken from the catwalk of the dome of the 200-inch telescope looking down on some of the first telescope parts to arrive.
In back is the prime focus cage. In the middle is the ring that surrounds the 200-inch mirror that holds it to the telescope's "tube". Note the people and cars which help to give a sense of scale.

Fly to the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies

I showed this video in a talk I gave recently and, by request I am posting it here too. It is a flight through our galaxy past familiar objects like the Horsehead Nebula, the Crab and then out of the Milky Way Galaxy past Andromeda, M33, M81& M82 and out to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies.


Here is a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Great World-Wide Star Count is Underway!

The Great World-Wide Star Count is underway now through November 12th. It is an easy & fun way to participate in real science and help measure light pollution in the process. Follow the link to learn how to participate.

Astrophoto Friday - Witch's Broom Nebula

It is Astrophoto Friday again and almost Halloween, so today we give you the Witch's Broom Nebula.

The Witch's Broom Nebula (a part of the Veil Nebula supernova remnant) is about 1,400 light years distant in the direction of the constellation of Cygnus the Swan.

This image was produced from several photos taken with Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Ochin Telescope as a part of the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. The image was processed by Davide De Martin. You can check out many more great images that he has produced at his SkyFactory website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week -

Back in early July I posted a modern photo of the support structure of the 200-inch telescope.

Here is what I had to say about it back then:
The support structure for the telescope was assembled out of steel in 1936. Dropping down 22-feet into the ground, it is anchored to Palomar Mountain itself. Its parts were both welded and riveted together. The structure is isolated from the foundation of the building to ensure that no vibrations would carry to the telescope itself.

It is essentially a structure that is independent of the building that contains it. Our history photo for this week helps to illustrate that point as it shows the structure as it looked before the building was added around it.

The photo was taken September 28, 1936.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago today Palomar Observatory's 60-inch telescope was dedicated. The telescope is currently seeing heavy use as a part of the Palomar Transient Factory survey and next year it will be fitted with adaptive optics as a part of the Robo-AO project. But 40 years ago it was brand new. For your enjoyment below is a copy of the dedication program as the telescope was commissioned.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - Uranus with Adaptive Optics

Once again it is Astrophoto Friday. Last week's choice was Neptune as seen by the Hale Telescope with adaptive optics. This week we move inward to bring you the planet Uranus.

This image of Uranus was taken on 11 August 2006 with the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch (5-meter) Hale Telescope and its Adaptive Optics system. The Adaptive Optics system removes the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere to produce very high resolution images.

Don Banfield of Cornell University collected and processed the data to produce this false color image. The image was recorded in three near-infrared wavelengths: "J" centered at 1.250 microns, "H" at 1.635 microns, and "Ks" at 2.150. The images were combined as red, green, and blue to create this false-color image. Several cloud features can be seen at Uranus' atmosphere. The planet's rings (seen nearly edge-on) show up as the red area off of the planet's disk.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Looking Through the Telescope

This isn't exactly what people usually have in mind when talking about looking through the Hale Telescope.

Here is the last picture to post from the recent secondary mirror inspection. At the end of the work I had the opportunity to go up in the basket to see the mirror. Alas, there wasn't enough light for me to capture the secondary, but the view looking inside the tube of the Hale Telescope from just below prime focus was pretty good.

There is a lot in this photo. So I have prepared an annotated version that shows off some of the major parts:

Secondary Inspection Movie

Here is a short, time-lapse movie from last week's secondary mirror inspection (photos in the previous post) as captured by the Hale Telescope's webcam.

Here is direct link to the movie on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspecting the Hale Telescope's Secondary

One day last week it was time for a routine inspection of one of the Hale Telescope's three secondary mirrors. The extreme pointing of the telescope to the east provided for easier access for the crew to get to the secondary mirror and it made for some nice photo opportunities.

Here is the view of the telescope from the inside catwalk. The photo was taken from the east side of the telescope.

The view from the north of the telescope's horseshoe reveals just how far to the east it was pointed. For those who are really curious, it was pointed 5 hours 41 minutes east of zenith.

Here is the view from on the observing floor on the north side of the telescope. The inspection crew is in the basket of the yellow lift.

From the catwalk, west of the telescope, the view showed off the bottom of the Cassegrain cage.

The view from south of the telescope reveals that it wasn't quite pointed to the horizontal -- but it was pretty close.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rain & Fog on Palomar

Anyone planning on traveling to Palomar Mountain today or in the next few days should pay close attention to the weather and road conditions.

Rain and fog are currently making for difficult driving conditions in the area. Additionally, rocks in the roads are likely during these times.

Be careful out there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - Resistance is Futile

Looking at this 1938 photo from the Caltech optical shop you might think that this optician was the inspiration for the Borg of the Star Trek universe.

In actuality he was performing a Foucault knife-edge test to measure the shape of one of the secondary mirrors for the 200-inch telescope.

By showing the full photo you can get a better sense of the mechanism that was being used.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - Neptune with Adaptive Optics

It is Astrophoto Friday! For your enjoyment this time is the planet Neptune.

This image of Neptune was taken on 11 August 2006 with the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale Telescope and its adaptive optics system. The adaptive optics system removes the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere to produce very high resolution images.

Don Banfield of Cornell University collected and processed the data to produce this false color image. The image was recorded in three near-infrared wavelengths: "J" centered at 1.250 microns, "H" at 1.635 microns, and "Ks" at 2.150. The images were combined as red, green, and blue to create this false-color image. A wide assortment of clouds can be seen at Neptune's atmosphere. The multi-colored object passing above Neptune is one of its moons which moved during the exposures.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lights Out this Election?

John Garrett runs a blog called Bright Stars Wildomar, which takes on light pollution in his area of Wildomar, CA (north of Palomar in Riverside County). In a recent post he has asked the candidates for Wildomar City Council to comment on light pollution. It is certainly worth reading for anyone in that immediate area, but it is also a task worthy of any voter in any area.

Naturally the issue of light pollution is one of great importance to Palomar. Hopefully it is also of importance to readers of this blog too. Anybody out there care to ask their candidates where they stand on the issue? If so, I would love to hear about it.

If you want to know where I stand on the issue (although I am not running for political office) you might want to attend my talk to the Riverside Astronomical Society on Saturday, October 23. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Cossentine Hall, La Sierra University, Riverside.

Also, a reminder, I am told that Dixieline still has a great deal on dark-sky light fixtures. Check out this post for the details.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

PALM-3000 Compoents Arrive

It is always nice when new things come to the observatory. Today the components for the new PALM-3000 upgrade to our adaptive optics system were delivered to the dome of the Hale Telescope.
The PALM-3000 team now has a good four months of work to complete on the system which is currently expected to see first light in February 2011.

For more information you can read an article here on the PALM-3000's new deformable mirror.

News & Discoveries from Palomar Transient Factory

The total number of supernovae discovered via the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey has climbed to 800.

The heart of the survey is Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope.

Be sure to check out the article from on PTF and astronomical data mining.

According to the article each night the 48-inch "telescope picks up 1.5 million candidate transients — fleeting astronomical phenomena — in the sky. Ten thousand or so of these are bona fide objects, and about 10 turn out to be new. Finding a few needles in a giant haystack night after night is a relatively new challenge for astronomers".

One of the more recent announcements out of the survey is that of the discovery of a possible "super-Chandrasekhar Type Ia Supernova". That would be the explosion of a white dwarf star that is more massive than is typically expected. They may possibly result from the merger and detonation of two white dwarf stars. For more on Type Ia supernovae, check out this fine summary from OPT telescopes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - The Electro-Magentic Sweeper

The Perfect Machine by Ronald Florence is the authoritative history of the building of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. The book is a detailed and often moving account of what happened and why on the Palomar project.

Here is a short passage from the book describing some of the conditions in the Caltech optical shop as people were polishing the 200-inch mirror:

The obsession with cleanliness in the optical shop was more than many men could stand. The floors were swept and washed daily. A worker rolled a magnet over the floor daily, sometime several time a day, to pick up even tiny specks of metal. If a speck was found it was put into an envelope, and the search began for the culprit machine. Was it a chip off a gear? Abrasion of some metal part that no one heard because of the noise of the grinding machines? A foreign speck off the shoes or uniform of a careless worker? Whatever the cause, it had t be found. A speck of metal under a polishing tool on the surface of a disk could make a scratch that might destroy months of work.

The image that came to my mind of a worker rolling a magnet over the floor to pick up stray bits of metal didn't equal the reality of the device that they actually used. I present to you the Electro-Magnetic Sweeper:

An amazing looking device! Here it is in action next to the 200-inch Pyrex disc:

Even more amazing to me is the fact that both of the people in the photo above the glass are smoking pipes! Both photos are from December 1938.