The Palomar Observatory

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A long and winding road.

I caught a quick nap last night by the entrance to the Fry Creek campgrounds in the adjacent Cleveland National Forest, just down the twisty road from the observatory (it’s closed for the winter despite being almost 80°).

I was surrounded by woodpeckers working way past the sunset and showing up for work just before daybreak (don’t they ever get a headache doing that?).

Plague!

I suppose it’s just as well—look at this warning poster! I’ve never seen one of these before!
 
It was good to make some dinner and morning coffee with my leetle Coleman stove. I think I’ve missed it, if you can believe that!

The people you meet!

By the entrance sign I met an astronomer-physicist, Jeff from Wyoming, taking photos of birds nearby (he was trying to get a bead on some elusive quail albeit unsuccessfully). Just goes to show scientists don’t venture far from “home” in their off-hours (we were in the shadow of the telescope!).
 
To my delight, Jeff educated me on some dark matter theories, one of which his, that I promised not to divulge (sorry)!
 
It’s truly amazing who you can run into and learn something from …in the middle of nowhere!

My childhood fantasy.

I think I have mentioned that I had a poster of Palomar on my wall when I was a kid—and I gotta tell you, it’s much bigger in person! Far from disappointing, although I wasn’t allowed to look through it (good thing since the daylight would have probably blinded me!).
 
The Observatory public relations guy, Steve Flanders, was kind enough to meet with me and show me around (I had called him before I left SD). I guess being a blogger counts for still being a journalist of sorts today.
 
Although there are many hoops one has to jump through to get into the actual telescope room and I didn’t manage to make it in there (you know I tried!), a viewing area—also accessible to the public—has a large glassed off room to spy on the goings-on inside (see photo, below).

My heart was racing.

What a day! I will spare you the exceptional history of the Hale Telescope here but, you can read more about it at the Caltech website. What I learned, however, is that the telescope—from its inception to today—has been entirely privately funded!
 
The Pyrex mirror, which I’m told is superior for maintaining its shape and made by Corning Glass in upstate New York, was shipped across the country on a specially-made rail car—after being poured and cooled for a year!
 
There were quite a few rich astronomy enthusiasts who made it happen and I thank them for giving me the impetus to “look up” for my entire life! Many thanks too, to Steve for taking the time to show me around—and answer a barrage of questions (I am known for doing that!).
 
The science continues at Palomar, once the largest optical telescope in the world. It still sees as well as the Hubble, even through the atmosphere thanks to upgrades to its CCD digital camera. May it continue to show us those starry frontiers in space for many years to come!
 
Happy trails my friends!

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