Monday, May 31, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - May 31, 2010

Eighty two years ago last week (May 25) the quest to build a 200-inch telescope began as the Rockefeller International Education Board appropriated “not more than $6,000,000” to the California Institute of Technology for the purchase of a site and the construction of an observatory including a 200” reflecting telescope.

Palomar Mountain was eventually chosen as the site for the observatory and as plans were still being finalized for the big telescope a new concept was discovered. This new design, the Schmidt camera, was a wide-field telescope gave crisp star images all the way to the edge of the field of view. The design was not implemented for the big telescope, but it was for Palomar's first telescope - the 18-inch Schmidt.

Here is the almost-completed 18-inch Schmidt telescope in the shops at Caltech on April 16, 1936. The telescope saw first light a few months later on September 5 as Fritz Zwicky began his surveys for supernovae. Across the years this telescope was used by many astronomers to discover asteroids, comets supernovae, galaxies, galaxy clusters and more.

The 18-inch Schmidt is now retired, but it proved to be very successful. So much so that a larger version was built, the 48-inch Schmidt. Now called the Samuel Oschin Telescope, the 48" is still used nightly and is the backbone to the Palomar Transient Factory survey that is discovering supernovae in record numbers.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Congratulations to SOFIA

Congratulations are in order to the team behind NASA's new airborne observatory SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which had "first light" earlier this week.

This new flying observatory sports a 2.5 meter telescope. One of its instruments, FORCAST (Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope), was first tested on Hale Telescope back in 2006. It was built by Terry Herter and his team at Cornell.

Below is FORCAST, before it was attached to the telescope's Cassegrain cage.

Below, right is how FORCAST saw Jupiter:

According to their news release:

"The crowning accomplishment of the night came when scientists on board SOFIA recorded images of Jupiter at wavelengths unobservable by either ground-based observatories or current space telescopes," said USRA SOFIA senior science advisor Eric Becklin. “The composite image from SOFIA shows heat, trapped since the formation of the planet, pouring out of Jupiter's interior through holes in its clouds.”

Astrophoto Friday: A Comet and a Meteor

Astrophoto Friday: Comet Halley and a Meteor. January 1986.

Here is the press caption from when this photo was released:

"This photo of Halley's comet was taken just as a meteor streaked across the sky above Caltech's Palomar Observatory. The photo was taken at 7:11 p.m., PST on January 7 by JPL astronomer Eleanor Helin using the 18-inch Schmidt Telescope at Palomar. The two-minute exposure shows the comet and tail, as well as the sharp streak of a meteor from the Quadrantid meteor shower."

This week hasn't given me much of a chance for blogging even though there are interesting things to share. Hopefully, you'll be seeing more here soon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Astrophoto Friday: The Rosette Nebula

This week for Astrophoto Friday we have the Rosette Nebula.

The Rosette Nebula is located about 5,200 light years away in the direction of the constellation of Monoceros, the Unicorn. It is a large star-forming region of hydrogen gas with a young star cluster (NGC 2244) at its center.

This photograph was made using Palomar's 48-inch Schmidt telescope (now called the Samuel Oschin Telescope). It was taken (possibly in 1965) by William C. Miller who was experimenting with the color astronomical photography. Be sure to check out this 1959 article from LIFE Magazine - The Hues of Heaven - In new Mount Palomar photographs man sees the stars in true color for the first time.

Also, there are some great photos of William C. Miller on the Google LIFE archive. You can check them out here. From that archive here is a photo of him in front of the dome of the Hale Telescope.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mighty Palomar

This is one of two ads that I know of from Dietzgen to feature Palomar's 200-inch Hale Telescope.

It looks like this full-page ad ran various times in different publications from the late 1949 to mid 1950.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - May 17, 2010

Once again we have a pair of photos for our Palomar Observatory History Photo of the Week.

Once again they again come from Lee Farnsworth.

The first shot shows a view of the dome for the 200-inch telescope taken while it was under construction. The photo was taken September 29, 1937.

This is a pretty nice, but typical, photograph showing dome construction. Notice the crane inside the dome what was used to lift the huge steel pieces into place.

The companion photo was taken by Mr. Farnsworth just nine days earlier. What is unique about this shot is that it was taken from inside, on the ground floor looking up at the dome structure and sky.

It is one of the very few such shots that I know of. The dark part on the sides is the ground floor ceiling and (from the other side) the observing floor. All of the parts for the telescope, which when these were taken would not arrive for another 13 months, came up through this opening.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Palomar Flies Its Colors

Check out this pic of the dome of the 200-inch Hale Telescope taken yesterday:

The photo was taken with an iPhone by Scott Calman, the observatory's IT guy (I don't know his real title). I am reasonably sure that the photo shows what may be a circumzenithal arc circumhorizon arc. Have we got any atmospheric scientists to lend some more info on this?

Update: Thanks to commenter jg for pointing me to a circumhorizon arc, which seems to be the correct name for this.

Astrophoto Friday: MWC 1080

This week's Astrophoto Friday image is of the young, massive star known as MWC 1080.

The image was taken with the 200-inch Hale Telescope armed with adaptive optics by Stanimir Metchev.

The image reveals fine details of the cluster of young stars that surround MCW 1080 and the nebula that they have formed from.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Palomar Transient Factory Hits High Gear

Last Thursday there was an Astronomer's Telegram issued about a new supernova discovered earlier that day by the Palomar Transient Factory team.

How does that happen? Wide-field images of the sky are made with Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope. A new portion of the sky is photographed approximately every 90 seconds. Data is beamed away via High Performance Wireless and Research and Education Network to the Internet and then on to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. Once there computers using an "autonomous inspection code" identify new sources and transmit the findings back to Palomar where the robotic 60-inch telescope gets called upon for follow-up observations. Once confirmation of the object is obtained from the 60-inch telescope (and in this case also from PAIRITEL) the next wave of observers is alerted.

In last week's discovery all of this happened as expected. Ultimately a spectrum was obtained with the 10-meter Keck I telescope which was used to identify the transient. The new object was found to be "a peculiar Type Ia supernova". The really amazing thing is that from discovery to spectrum less than half an hour had elapsed! That is an amazingly short period to time to photograph, identify and garner observations from multiple telescopes.

Since it began last year the Palomar Transient Factory has so far discovered and spectroscopically classified 432 supernovae. There should be plenty more discoveries to come.

The 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope, where the Palomar Transient Factory begins.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - May 10, 2010

Sixty two years ago today it was announced that the 200-inch telescope atop Palomar Mountain would be named the Hale Telescope.

In honor of that, our History Photo of the Week is made up of photos of the visitor's entrance to the dome of the Hale Telescope. The foyer has this tribute to George Ellery Hale:

What else is there to say?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Astrophoto Friday: M16 the Eagle Nebula

Today's entry for Astrophoto Friday is Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula.

The photo was taken in 1965 with the 200-inch Hale Telescope. M16 is an emission nebula and associated open star cluster located about 7,000 light years distant in the direction of the constellation of Serpens.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Can See for Miles and Miles . . . .

Here is another ad that features Palomar Observatory. This one, from Corning, was run in the 1948 Caltech yearbook, The Big T.

Click to embiggen and you'll be able to read the text of the ad. The photo shows the honeycombed back side of the 200-inch disc. Standing with it is Dr. George V. McCauley (left) and Dr. J. C. Hostetter. Dr. McCauley directed the project of the casting the huge Pyrex disc.

The ad includes some interesting copy with lines like "the giant telescope atop Mt. Palomar, so powerful that the canals of Mars, if there are any, will for the first time be photographed."

Of course in 1948 just about every astronomer was already convinced that the "canals of Mars" were nothing more than an optical illusion. Curiously enough the Chief of Aviation and Optical Division of the Corning Glass Works, Dr. O. A. Gage gave a radio address in April 1936 (about twelve years before this ad came out) on the 200-inch mirror. In the address he said that there will be "no inroads on the inhabitants of Mars" - meaning no one was going to see any canals. Too bad the person who wrote the ad didn't check with Dr. Gage. His speech was printed in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and contains some interesting stuff. You can see it here.

Oh, and 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles is a little over a billion light years. With modern digital detectors astronomers using the 200-inch telescope can see at least eleven times further than that.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Kica Mic Overlook on Palomar

The Cleveland National Forest has installed a new overlook near the top of Palomar Mountain's East Grade Road.

The National Forest Service has added interpretive signs that provide interesting information on the view and the great attractions in the area.

The greatest attraction in the area, aside from nature itself, is none other than Palomar Observatory.

It was wet out when I stopped, so my photos don't do justice to the displays. Some of the astrophotos used in the display were processed by Davide De Martin of He processed black and white pictures, taken with different color filters, from the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey and turned them into wonderful color images. Be sure to check out his site for a close look at his fine work.

The Kica Mic Overlook offers a majestic vista of the lands south of Palomar Mountain. I didn't pick the best day to stop and visit. The cloud layer was about 100 feet above Palomar, but the view below was still quite impressive.

The next time you are driving on East Grade Road (aka S-7) be sure to stop and check out the view here and at the Henshaw Overlook a little further down the road (especially while it is still nice and green below).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Palomar Observatory on TV this week

Look for Caltech's Mike Brown and Palomar Observatory to be featured in this Thursday's episode of Known Universe on the National Geographic Channel. Check your local listings.

Check out the preview embedded below (and please accept our apologies for the commercial that runs first).

Filming at the Hale Telescope was done last summer. In the episode Mike Brown talks about dwarf planet Eris, a member of Kuiper Belt, discovered by him with images taken with Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - May 3, 2010

At first glance this week's Palomar Observatory History Photo of the Week might seem like an ordinary vintage shot of the 200-inch telescope and dome. What makes this photo really stand out for me is the person standing in the opening of the dome. Click on the image to embiggen and you'll be able to see him better.

I am not sure who the person is, but this fine photo was taken by O.K. Harter in August of 1941. At the time of this picture the dome was completed and just about all of the work on the telescope was as well. The 200-inch mirror was in the optical shop at Caltech and the concrete dummy mirror was installed on the telescope where the mirror would eventually be.