August 17, 2013 – Mt. Wilson Observatory

Los Angeles Westerners  do history with the Stars!
by Larry L. Boerio, Deputy Sheriff

Click here to view photos from the event.

On Saturday, August 17, 2013, twenty-five Corral members and guests toured historic Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO), the birthplace of modern astronomy where some of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th Century took place. Mt Wilson contains what were the largest telescopes in the world at the time. These telescopes, still in use, were vital to unlocking fundamental secrets of the Universe by scientists at MWO in the first half of the twentieth century. This half-day trip was another exclusive Corral Special Outing focused on experiencing history in “3-D”.

Our private tour was led by Dave Jurasevich, Deputy Director of Operations at MWO, who was our speaker at the monthly Roundup just three days earlier. As Dave told us at the beginning of the tour, “you are going to see things that others don’t get to see, because I have all the keys”. He was right!

After arriving at MWO, situated at 5712’ elevation, we first enjoyed the scenic beauty of the pine forest and the spectacular views overlooking Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles west to the ocean. Our tour began with a walk to the 150’ solar tower. On our way we saw a view of the historic Mount Wilson Toll Road (original trail built by Benjamin D. Wilson) used to bring the original equipment to Mount Wilson in 1904. Inside the solar tower, we were introduced to Steve Padilla, who has been observing the sun and sketching sunspots for scientific study for nearly forty years at Mount Wilson. Steve graciously showed us the observer’s area and its equipment.  He also demonstrated how he spots and records the sunspots by hand drawing them. The technique has not changed with sun spot activity records back to 1917. The Los Angeles Times, in its October 28, 2013 edition, highlighted Mr. Padilla and his work at Mount Wilson in its featured, front-page article for the day. We learned about George Ellery Hale, the founder of MWO, who discovered solar vortices as well as the systemic changing magnetic polarities of sun spots, (now known as the Hale-Nicholson Law).

We then proceeded to the 60” reflecting telescope. It was built in 1908, the largest reflecting telescope in the world at that time. Using the 60” scope in 1918, Harlow Shapley determined that our solar system was not the center of the Milky Way as was always thought. He calculated that it is 25,000 light years from the center of the galaxy on a spiral arm. We then proceeded to the 100” reflecting telescope, completed in 1917. Edwin Hubble used this instrument to make two monumental discoveries: 1) that the Milky Way was not the only galaxy in the universe, and 2) the expansion of the universe, which Albert Einstein originally refused to believe. In addition to the telescope, its dome, and all the control systems, we saw the wooden chair in which Hubble sat for his historic observations.  After all of this intellectual stimulation, Dave opened up the dome to the sky and later allowed us to go outside on a catwalk that is attached to the dome. There we all took a 360 degree ride as the dome rotated around to all the fabulous views from this mountain site. We then visited the site where Albert Michelson measured the speed of light in 1926.

As if this was not enough, Dave had more in store for us! We visited the Monastery that Hale built for scientists to live in while they studied at MWO. It was interesting that Hale gave himself a very small bedroom, just like the others. The Monastery contained his personal office where Dave showed us some very rare and significant scientific books that Hale studied. In addition to visiting the dining room, where many a world-famous scientist took their meals, we had the opportunity to sit in the Monastery’s study where Albert Einstein once lectured to a select group of scientists. The chair in which he sat is known as “Einstein’s Chair”; and Dee Dee Ruhlow sat in it without realizing that she was the lucky one out of the entire group! Pictures were a popping!

I wish to thank Dave Jurasevich for a fabulous tour and for offering us his many insights. Additionally, I must mention Jim Macklin, who heroically filled in for me to arrange registration of all participants and coordinated trip specifics with the Observatory.

Click here to view photos from the event.