Monday, July 26, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - July 26, 2010

One day about a year and a half ago I got a packet of Palomar Observatory construction photos in the mail. They were saved and sent to us by Al Howard. I heard from Al recently as he asked if he could come up for a tour and bring his 96-year old father. I was happy to accommodate them on their recent visit.

As it turns out his father, Albert Howard, worked at the observatory in the mess hall in 1936. I recalled that I happened to have a group photo of people in front of the observatory mess hall that was taken around the time he worked here. I wondered, was he in it?

Yes, Albert Howard is in the group photo!

Here is a modern shot of Albert (left) and Al (right):

I realize that after 74 or so years that may not be quite enough for you to pick him out in the group shot above. Albert Howard is in the very back row, 4th from the left. Here is a now and then shot for you:

So many years later, it is very rare opportunity to have the chance to meet one of the people who helped to make Palomar Observatory a reality. We are certainly thankful for all of the hard work that was put in by Albert Howard and everyone who worked on the Palomar project.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - M13

In the early 1950s astronomer Walter Baade's observations led to a "doubling" of the size of the universe (by recalibrating the distances to objects). Below is a scan (alas, with smudges)of one of the press photos put out for this story in 1953. The photo, taken with the 200-inch Hale Telescope, of globular star cluster M13 (aka NGC 6205).

Here is the caption from the photo:

Globular Star Cluster in the constellation of Hercules. (200-inch Photo)
This was one of the globular clusters studied in the research of Dr. Walter Baade aimed at checking the astronomical distance scale, which he found need an upward revision by a factor of about two. This cluster is known as Messier 13 and is a vast collection of stars. Dr. Baade is a staff member of the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, which are jointly operated by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the California Institute of Technology.

Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories are no longer "married" as they were back in the day. The divorce took place in 1979. M13 however is still there and is a fine object to view through any telescope (especially with skies that do not suffer light pollution) on summer evenings.

OPT Supports Public Outreach at Palomar

Last Saturday, Oceanside Photo & Telescope held week two of their amazing Southern California Astronomy Expo (SCAE). The event included a spectacular array of prizes put up by the many vendors attending the event. Proceeds from the raffle were donated to help support public outreach here at Palomar Observatory.

Photo by Eric Blackhurst

That's OPT's owner Craig Weatherwax at right shaking my hand after presenting the check for $4,000. Thank you OPT and thanks to the vendors who supported the event! We appreciate your generosity in supporting public outreach in astronomy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week: July 19, 2010

An oak tree frames the skeletal dome for the 200-inch telescope in this 1937 photo. Pictures like this one were pretty common as it took quite a while to actually build the dome.

A much more unusual view, captured about the same time, is the photo below. It was taken from the top of the structure of the dome, looking down at the shadow of the of the dome framework. The large towers at the left and right are sections of the cranes that built the dome. They are easily seen sticking up through the dome structure in the photo on top.

Click to embiggen and you'll see a car and even a person. The crane at left is labeled "CONSOLIDATED" for Consolidated Steel, the contractor that was used to build the dome.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Asteroid Cronkite

On the night of November 18, 1990 astronomer Elanor Helin, using Palomar's 18-inch Schmidt telescope, discovered an asteroid (arrowed above) that was later found to have an orbit that carried it across the orbit of Mars. Almost exactly six years later the asteroid was named for journalist Walter Cronkite and is now officially known as 6318 Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite passed away one year ago today, just days ahead of the 4oth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Cronkite famously covered the moon landings and for many of us old enough to remember them it is hard to separate the events that took place in space from the coverage he provided.

It has been a year, but so long Walter you are missed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Astrophoto Friday: Bonus Palomar in Science Fiction Edition!

Here are a couple of classic Palomar images from the early days of color astrophotography.

The Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31) as photographed with the 48-inch Schmidt telescope (now called the Samuel Oschin Telescope).

The Ring Nebula (aka M57), a planetary nebula in the constellation of Lyra as photographed by the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

Both of these images were part of a 1959 article in LIFE magazine, The Hues of Heaven, that showed off the first ever color astrophotos. These and other images from Palomar, were inspirational to people like me. They also worked their way into popular culture. My favorite example is that they were used as set dressing for the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in the first season of the original series of Star Trek. The shot below shows M31, M57, Lt. Uhura and Mr. Spock from the episode, The Naked Time (By the way, it is a pretty good episode and you can watch it here.).

In their day these photos were revolutionary and looked futuristic enough to have them displayed on the bridge of the Enterprise. Times have changed. We have moved on to doing things like imaging exoplanets. The big, familiar objects like the ones shown above can now be easily by amateur astronomers with off of the shelf equipment.

In another 44 years what kinds of images will professional and amateur astronomers be able to take?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Visiting on Wednesday?

Due to some maintenance work Palomar Observatory may open to the public tomorrow (Wednesday) a bit later than the normal 9 am.

We aren't expecting a huge delay, but planning an arrival for 10 am might work out better.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - July 12, 2010

Palomar Observatory's first telescope was the 18-inch Schmidt.

This week's Palomar Observatory History Photo of the Week shows the dome of the 18-inch Schmidt while it was under construction. The photo was taken by Lee A. Farnsworth, Jr, who worked here during the construction of the observatory. I don't know the exact date of the picture but it was certainly taken in the spring of 1936.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Under the Hale

The view under the Hale Telescope:

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 was built and later reinforced to withstand earthquakes, but it can still be moved to change its orientation on the Earth.

Impressive, isn't it?

Astronomy Events in So Cal

If you are in or near Southern California there are some pretty cool astronomy events headed your way.

First off is OPT's Southern California Astronomy Expo taking place this weekend and next. Follow the link for more information on the swap meet, barbecue, star party (at a special location), a raffle and more. There is an impressive list of events and prizes for this. So don't miss it.

For a smaller crowd and fewer prizes (okay, none), check out Explore the Stars taking place this weekend at the National Forest Service's Observatory Campground. If you can't make it the event this weekend it will be repeated August, September & October.

But that's not all! August brings the third annual Julian Starfest and September brings the Pacific Astronomy and Telescope Show (PATS) in Pasadena.

It is a great summer for astronomy. Go out and enjoy it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - July 5, 2010

I wasn't able to get a history photo posted last week, so here are two for this week.

They were taken from the catwalk on the inside of the dome for the 200-inch telescope, which wasn't much of a dome yet, on August 26, 1937.

The crane at right in each shot was used to lift the elements of the dome's structure into place.

There is at least one person in each photo. Can you spot them?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Here's a little red, white & blue to brighten your Independence Day:

Those that have been around the blog a while may remember our dome wash pictures from last year, if not follow the link to see pictures of the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department washing the dome of the Hale Telescope. The shot above is another one from that morning.

Have a safe holiday.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - the Crab Nebula

The supernova explosion that produced what is today known as the Crab Nebula was first observed July 4, 1054 A.D. A bright supernova explosion seems like a great way to celebrate Independence Day, even if it was a number of years too early. (I would settle for one now!)

Here is a picture of the Crab that was taken by Walter Baade with the 200-inch Hale Telescope on the night of October 11 1950. It was a 45 minute exposure with a red sensitive film. For a more modern picture and further information be sure to check out my blog post on the Crab Nebula from last year.