Monday, January 31, 2011

Observatory Closed January 31st

I just found out that Palomar Observatory is closed to the public today.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Palomar History Photo of the Week - Sitting Down on the Job

A couple of weeks ago I posted photos of the mirror cell for the 200-inch telescope as it arrived in California via ship. This week's photo was taken January 27, 1936 - two weeks after its arrival.

It shows the mirror cell sitting on the mirror's grinding machine with a member of the optical shop posed sitting with his legs in the center hole. Note that there are three other people in the photo working on the rail to the upper right of the mirror cell. Unlike the man posed on the cell, they were working look blurry - a result of the slow films in use back then.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Robo-AO in Action

I am hearing that the Robo-AO team has had a good week of testing here on the Palomar 60-inch telescope.

Their ultraviolet (UV) laser is mounted on the south side of the telescope. One of the chief issues for the week was the installation and testing of their periscope which transfers the laser beam from being just offset from where the telescope is pointing to being on axis with the telescope.

If you look at the photo below you can see the location of the laser, which is located in the black box just under the telescope on the right side. From this position the laser will propagate to the upper left where their periscope assembly is located. You can see that as the black end of the telescope with something hanging off of it.

The second photo shows the whole set up from a different perspective. Note that the cover to the laser has been removed. Click on the image to get a better look at its innards.

Photo by Christoph Baranec

The third photo shows the periscope assembly from a different vantage point. Christoph Baranec (Robo-AO's principal investigator) can be seen adjusting a mirror. In this image the UV laser is on. UV light is invisible, but still potentially damaging so you'll notice that Christoph is wearing a face shield to protect his eyes (I was wearing one too when I took this photo). Also notice that the mirror on the center axis of the telescope is fluorescing due to the UV light shining on it.

Saving the best for last, this final photo shows the top of the telescope. It was taken with a camera that records UV and visible light, so it reveals both the telescope and the normally invisible UV laser beam.

Photo by Christoph Baranec

The team has also been evaluating any flexure in the telescope and laser pointing to better ensure better results in the future.

Stay tuned for more on the Robo-AO program. Their next observing run will be in March.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robo-AO Returns to Palomar

This week the Robo-AO team is back on Palomar for some tests of their laser-guide star adaptive optics system for our 60-inch telescope.

I will post some updates and shots of the laser in action over the next week or so, but here is a shot looking at the back end of the telescope showing some of the equipment that is in use for the project:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Palomar History Photo of the Week - Building the Horseshoe

On January 17, 1939, seventy two years ago today, the last of the three big pieces of the 200-inch telescope's north horseshoe bearing was lifted into place. The bearing is a key component the 530-ton telescope, allowing it to pivot to look east or west. The horseshoe bearing floats on a thin film of pressurized oil and helps to support the weight of the telescope.

These photos were taken from the dome's inside catwalk by Lee A. Farnsworth, Jr. who worked at the observatory during construction of The Big Eye.

The first picture captured the view from just southwest of the telescope looking northeast toward the horseshoe. The east horn of the horseshoe is easily visible on the right.

The second photo shows the west horn of the horseshoe as it is being lifted by the crane at the top of the dome. The

The final shot shows the west horn of the horseshoe being lifted into position. Note the person in the photo. The fully assembled bearing is 46 feet across would still need to have its pieces welded together to become functional.

The successful welding of the horseshoe marked the completion of the telescope's mounting structure. In the months that followed the Palomar crew would move on to assemble the 200-inch telescope.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Night Lights

Here is something you don't see very often. The lights on inside the dome of the Hale Telescope at night.

I have always liked this shot because of the mix between moonlight (illuminating the dome), starlight (can you spot Orion and Taurus?) and the interior lights. It is the only photo that I have taken ever to appear on the cover of a phone book

This picture was taken in the fall of 2004 during some engineering time. The lights were on while some new equipment was being prepared for use later that night.

I have uploaded this photo at a higher resolution than I normally do. Click on the image to see it in a much larger size.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Top Honors for Astronomer Richard Ellis

Congratulations to Richard Ellis, Steele Professor of Astronomy at Caltech and former Palomar Observatory director, who was just chosen by the Royal Astronomical Society's highest honor -- their Gold Medal.

From Royal Astronomical Society's citation:

... in recognition of his outstanding personal research and leadership in astronomy that make him one of the most influential British astronomers of the last three decades.

During his career, Richard Ellis has played a key role in cosmology and astronomical instrumentation. In the 1990s he used the Hubble Space Telescope to solve the 'faint blue galaxy' problem, identifying the transformation of irregular galaxies into more quiescent systems. Since then he has made major progress in understanding why galaxies are grouped into the 'Hubble sequence' and in recent years has used gravitational lensing to find some of the most distant objects in the universe, with redshifts from 6 to 10.

Prior to Caltech, Richard held posts including Director of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge and Professor of Astronomy at Durham University. During this time he led the 2-degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey (2dFGRS), the first large-scale (and highly
successful) cosmology project. Subsequently he has gone on to lead a team proposing a wide-field spectrograph for the Subaru telescope on Hawaii that would be the natural successor to 2dFGRS and is playing a key role in the efforts to build a 30-m telescope.

Richard is the co-author of 340 refereed papers receiving more than 41000 citations, with three of his papers each having more than 1000 citations, giving him a publication record of immense stature. With all-round vision, science leadership and a rich legacy of contributions to cosmology, he is a very worthy recipient of the Gold Medal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mountain Medical Aid

We would like to thank the members of the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department and other rescue workers who responded to a medical aid call at the Observatory yesterday.

Not being able to help, at least I was able to capture some pictures of firetrucks with the dome of the Hale Telescope.

Mercy Air was called in to get the patient to the hospital quickly, that gave me a chance to catch the helicopter, Hale Telescope dome and a halo around the sun all in one shot.

We certainly hope for a speedy recovery for the patient and are glad to have such fine help close at hand.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Palomar History Photo of the Week - Our Ship Comes In

Let's try to catch up on our History Photo of the Week by posting a few shots from January 13, 1936 when our ship came in.

Here is the Nevadan with a tug boat bringing it into the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California:

On board in a cargo hold is a delivery from Baldwin-Southwark Corp in Eddystone, Pennsylvania of an item made by Babcock & Wilcox Company.

The big round crate contains what will be the mirror cell for the 200-inch mirror. Just to give you a sense of scale you can see a portion of two cars in the hold on the left.

It was removed from the ship and lifted on to a trailer for transportation to Caltech:

Here is the arrival of the trailer as it is backed in from California Boulevard and into the optical shop at Caltech:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Palomar Sunset - January 7, 2011

Tonight's sunset from the catwalk of the 200-inch Hale Telescope:

Click to embiggen to make it easier to spy the crescent moon at the top of the picture.

Observatory Open

The headline says it all. We are now back on our normal winter visiting hours of being open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

See "Acquainted with the Night" in Palm Springs Next Week

A new documentary film, Acquainted with the Night, will be playing at the Palm Springs International Film Festival next week.

According to Michael McNamara, the film's director "The documentary examines night time around the world, and features amazing photography of night phenomena, time lapse photography and Aurora Borealis, and also looks at the consequences and effects of light pollution."

It is not as yet scheduled to be broadcast on U.S. TV so catching it at the film festival may be your only chance to see it for a while. It will be showing:

Tuesday January 11, 12.00pm -- Annenberg Auditorium

Thursday January 13, 12:00pm -- Camelot Theatres

Saturday January 15, 4:00pm -- Palm Canyon Theatre

Check out the trailer below:

You can also watch it directly here on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday: Still Closed

The latest word is that there is some snow/ice lodged on the upper part of the dome of the 200-inch telescope in a place that can't easily be cleared. Since falling snow/ice poses a potential danger to visitors the observatory will be closed until it looks safe.

It is hoped that some direct sunlight today will help to clear the problem.

Out Giving Talks & A New Exhibit

Here are two pieces of news that are not for those local to Southern California.

Later this month I will be speaking about current research taking place at Palomar Observatory at the Seattle Astronomical Society's annual banquet. The talk will be on Sunday, January 30 and the details are on their website.

On Monday, January 10 the Rakow Research Library at the Corning Museum of Glass will be opening a new exhibit: Mirror to Discovery The 200-inch Disk and the Hale Reflecting Telescope at Palomar. The exhibit runs until October 30, 2011 - so there is plenty of time to plan your trip to see it. I will be heading to Corning, NY to see the exhibit as I am giving an invited talk there about Palomar Observatory on March 24. The date is one day short of the 77th anniversary of the casting of the first, failed, 200-inch disk. This gigantic piece of glass became the centerpiece for the museum and it still on display.

Hopefully some of the people who follow this blog, but are far from Palomar Observatory will be able to attend.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sorry, We're Closed

Yes, we are still closed to the public.

Remember you can check on the observatory's status by calling our Public Information Recording: (760) 742-2119.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Still Closed

Icy conditions persist at Palomar Observatory and in many places on the roads in the area. As a result the observatory remains closed to the public today.


Happy New Year. May you all have clear dark skies in the coming year.