by Scott Kelley
If you are not a hiker or a science geek, you may not know that one of our local Los Angeles peaks holds a number of prominent astronomical observatories. I’m talking about Mt. Wilson. You know, the one above Pasadena with all the antennas sprouting off of it.
Back in 1904 when LA was just a little town of about 250,000, our skies were very dark and an our inversion layer (that traps the smog) made it an ideal place for an observatory. These days most of the real science is done with the solar and interferometry scopes. But the big 60″ and 100″ scopes are still there. And get this, YOU CAN RENT THEM OUT!
So our intrepid leader somehow scored a Saturday night with no moon for Black Rock Observatory crew and supporters. We met at the gate and were escorted under the strict watch of our session director. After walking up the stairs to instrument level, there it is, BOOM, a giant telescope.
We had about five hours total with the 60″ scope and the close by 16″ scope that is used for educational outreach. The smaller scope seemed to me to have better images of the planets, but not the nebula.
Some folks were a little surprised that the images don’t look like those giant super saturated pics from a book. But you are also looking directly at the light from that distant object. No computers or other funny business. Straight from the stars, across hundreds of light years, into the scope, into your pupil, down the optic nerve to be burned into your brain forever. Or at least until your puny carbon based life body crumbles back to star dust.