Mt. Wilson telescope turns 100 years old

60-inch telescope on Mt. Wilson

One of my favorite assignments ever while at the Daily News (pre-web so I can't link) was a profile of Robert Jastrow, the brilliant physicist who, in addition to helping found NASA and invent space travel as we know it, came to California in 1992 to become the director of the Mt. Wilson Institute.

He gave a photog and me a tour of the 60-inch telescope, showed us the massive mirror made in France, flipped a switch on the wall inside the enormous dome and, as casually as turning on a light, opened it. Jastrow, who passed away last February, would have reveled in the fact that this year, the 60-inch telescope turns 100. Here's a story in the Star-News:

The "granddaddy of them all," the giant 60-inch telescope that ushered in the modern age of cosmic exploration, marked its 100th anniversary Wednesday in celebrations at Mount Wilson Observatory.

When it was built in 1908, the brainchild of George Ellery Hale, the revolutionary telescope was the largest in the world and the first to explore rather than map the universe.

Acknowledged as the forerunner of every modern research telescope - including the Hubble - the telescope is now retired from active science. But it's still the largest telescope in the world available exclusively to the public for astronomical viewing.

Hale, who founded the observatory in 1904 with funding from Andrew Carnegie, was a pioneer in the new field of astrophysics.

"In the width, breadth and depth of his vision, he was ahead of his time," said Sam Hale, one of Hale's eight grandchildren.

If there's one quote that sums him up, it's "Think big!" Hale said, describing his grandfather as a "comet that comes whizzing across the sky once in a great while."

I love that the telescope is available for rent. Tour info here, and a really nice story about renting the 'scope here.

--Veronique de Turenne

Photo: Eternal Tedium / Flickr (via Creative Commons license)

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