Saturday, January 9, 2010

Palomar Observatory at the National Air and Space Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. While I was there I had to check out the display on Palomar Observatory, which is a part of their Explore the Universe exhibit.

A great artifact in the collection is the Hale Telescope's old Prime Focus Spectrograph.

A cool thing about the display is that you can actually see one of the spectra captured by the instrument.

These spectra are so tiny that they can only really be inspected with a microscope. In the image above the spectrum of radio galaxy 3C 327 isn't the feature that looks like bar codes, it is what you see between the "bar codes" which are reference lines.

I shot a short movie of the exhibit with my iPhone. You can see it below:

Palomar shows up in a number of other places as well. Perhaps the most notable artifact is the prism for the 4-Shooter camera. The 4-Shooter, tested with the 200-inch telescope, was the prototype instrument for the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide-field Planetary Camera known as WF/PC (pronounced "wiff pic"). For anyone interested in learning what it was like to observe with the 4-Shooter at Palomar in the 1980s, I highly recommend the book First Light by Richard Preston.


jlp105 said...

Actually, it's a bit of a misnomer to call the 4shooter pyramid a "prism". It's really a very shallow, pyramid shaped, 4 sided mirror that directed the 4 separate quadrants of the telescopes cassegrain focal plane to 4 corresponding 800x800 pixel ccd cameras. Hence the name "4Shooter". This is how they did it before large CCD arrays came along

Scott Kardel said...

Well, yes it isn't a prism that disperses light into a spectrum. It was more like a deck prism.