Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite 20-ton Piece of Glass

The folks over at the Corning Museum of Glass are asking people to vote for their favorite piece of glass in their collection. Can you guess which one happens to be my favorite?*

Here is a video that they produced that explains it:

Here is a direct link to the video on YouTube.

Last March Robert Cassetti, who is seen in the video, happened to give me a wonderful tour of the fabulous glass collection at the museum. If you are at all interested in unique and amazing glass artistry I encourage you to explore all 60 pieces that are highlighted for the museum's 6oth anniversary.

*By the way, the 200-inch mirror that is actually in service at Palomar is my favorite piece of glass. However, it is not on display, nor does it weigh 20 tons.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dome Shadow

Here is the shadow of the dome of the Hale Telescope as it looked late yesterday afternoon. The dome of the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope can be seen to the left of the shadow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Robo-AO is Moving Forward

The Robo-AO team is back on Palomar for another week of testing new equipment on our 60-inch telescope. I have blogged about Robo-AO before, but for those who don't know, the Robo-AO system will soon be the world’s first laser-guide star adaptive-optics system working on a robotic telescope. When it is in operation it should deliver ultra-sharp imaging for up to hundreds of targets per night.

The system began as a fully-working testbed has been operating at Caltech in the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics basement for several months. Starting last fall the team has been given some engineering time every few months to gradually bring the system up and on the Palomar 60-inch telescope.

In September of last year they had their first propagation of their ultraviolet (UV) laser into the sky as a guide star for adaptive optics. Earlier this year they were able to successfully have the beam sent up the telescope's axis and measure the return.

The team is back at Palomar this week for the installation of new equipment and further testing.

In the image above notice the new electronics rack mounted on the telescope at right. In the center is part of their new adaptive-optics instrument and the black box at left is the laser.

Their are still additional components to integrate into the system, but it is expected that start of the science demonstration period will commence in late summer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Corning Talk Now Online

For any who might be interested, the talk I gave last month at the Corning Museum of Glass is now posted to their website as an MP4 video file (779 Mb) and as an audio-only MP3 file (68 Mb). FYI, it runs about 50 minutes. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tonight's Atlas V Launch

Palomar Observatory is a great place to study the universe. It is also occasionally a very nice place to watch rocket launches. Tonight it is well suited for both as the skies are clear, the seeing is quite good and the USAF launched an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

This picture shows the rocket crossing just above Orion's Belt.

This photo shows a staging event a little later. Both images were 30-second exposures taken with an Canon 5D and a 17mm lens.

The Edge of Night

Here is how the dome and the Moon looked just after sunset.

It looks like we will have a good night tonight as the Hale Telescope is used to study quasars.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No Tours This Coming Sunday

Alas, we will be unable to offer our guided tours of the 200-inch Hale Telescope on Sunday, April 17.

Tours for Saturday, April 16 (held at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. & 2:30 p.m.) will be held as scheduled. More information on our program of public tours can be found here on the observatory's website.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Palomar Panorama

Here is a view of the dome of the Hale Telescope that was taken yesterday morning from up on the observatory's water tower.

The photo was taken by observatory employee Scott Calman. It is part of a panorama that captures one other Palomar dome and much of the surrounding landscape.

You can find the panorama here. The dome of the 200-inch telescope is at left (looking southwest). To its right is the dome of the 24-inch telescope and the observatory's visitor center/museum (looking due west). Near the far right are the snow-capped peaks of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the northeast.

I have posted Palomar panoramas before, but it is always time for another one that captures the view from a different perspective.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Observatory Open

Sorry I didn't get this posted earlier, but the observatory is open to the public again and back on its regular non-winter visiting hours where we are open from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Observatory Closed

Winter weather conditions will keep Palomar Observatory closed to the public today through this weekend.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Visit to Corning, NY

I gave an invited talk about Palomar Observatory to an audience at the Corning Museum of Glass. It was an important presentation for me as Corning is the birthplace of Palomar's 200-inch mirror. I had the chance to fill everyone in on what the astronomers have been doing with it over the years. I was happy that there was a nice crowd for the talk and that they asked me many follow-up questions. I even got a positive review in the Corning newspaper. More importantly I had the chance to meet some great people, look through some historical archives and explore the fabulous collection in the museum.

It should be no secret that my favorite piece in the Corning Museum of Glass is the first disc that was cast for the 200-inch telescope. The casting ultimately turned out to be a failure (read about it here), but it became the first piece in what is now a world-famous collection of glass.

Here is a short video that I shot showing the 20-ton failed disc:

Here is a link to the video on YouTube.

I also had the chance to finally meet glass artist Mark Peiser. Mark has created a series of pieces inspired by the 200-inch mirror for the Hale Telescope. (You can read some earlier posts about Mark's work here and here).

Here I am with Mark in the Rakow Research Library. One of Mark's pieces, seen between us, from his "Palomar Series" is on display as a part of the Mirror to Discovery exhibit at the Rakow. Mark recently sent me some photos of some of his newer pieces in his Palomar Series. I will likely make another post on them in (hopefully) the near future, but here is a preview showing one called "Palomar Rising":

I also had the honor of meeting some of the family of Dr. George V. McCauley, the man from Corning Glass Works who was in charge of creating the glass giant.

That's me with Dr. McCauley's daughter, Anne Price and her son Rick and his wife Sheila. Behind us is a portion of the Mirror to Discovery exhibit in the Rakow Research Library. In the glass case are some cool Palomar/Corning artifacts including this unassuming gem:

It is the drawing board that Dr. McCauley used to design the 200-inch mirror. For a nice look at his design visit this page from the Corning Museum of Glass and look for the image "Plan View and Cross Section of Mirror" and you'll find out a surprise about the 200-inch.

One final thing about the Mirror to Discovery exhibit in the Rakow Research Library, the staff there developed some trading cards for the kids that take a tour through the exhibit. They show the story of the making of the 200-inch mirror, the disc that is on display in the museum and even some astrophotos from Palomar. It is a nice set of cards and I couldn't resist taking a picture of them here at Palomar with the Hale Telescope in the background.

In case you were wondering, the 200-inch mirror is enclosed in the steel ring with the black circles.

Finally, I would like to extend my personal thanks to everyone at the Rakow Library and the Corning Museum of Glass for making this such wonderful visit. It was an honor for me to be able to represent the observatory at the birthplace of the Hale Telescope's mirror.