Good News Everyone!
You may recall the terrible fires of last year in the San Gabriel mountains, and the scare about whether the Mount Wilson facility might have been overrun by flames. There were Tolkienesque scenes of flaming mountains, dramatic battles on mountaintops, and so forth. No Balrogs were involved (a far as I know), but it was nail-biting enough for many.
One of the fallouts (fallsout?) of this was that the public access to the Observatory needed to be suspended. This included the ability to reserve access to the famous 60 inch telescope for your own use for an evening, an activity that I have highly recommended (from first hand experience) here on the blog.
Well, I can happily announce (I heard this from my friend Shelley Bonus who works Continue reading ‘Mount Wilson Open For Business!’
Stepping back from the unpleasantness going on at ground level for a moment (see the four previous posts, 1, 2, 3, 4), it seems that there is something else going on that’s actually quite fascinating. I went over to the top of one of the USC campus parking structures to take a look and gather some data and I’ve been chatting to people at random about it*. (This might also be a sign that I’m procrastinating on some other task… ) That white part of the cloud is not smoke, is it? It is actually a cloud of vapour. Like a cumulus cloud you’d normally see in various weather conditions. I’ve heard some chatter about these systems “making their own weather”, and I can see that you could get a lot of localized heat dragging air in from other areas and so creating winds and so forth, but is that also generating this cloud? If so, how? Where is it getting all this moisture from? Is it from the water that is being Continue reading ‘Head in the Clouds…’
Continuing my series of posts on the approach of the fires to Mount Wilson and the threat to the Observatory (see previous for information and discussion – this morning I am happy to hear that the radio news is now mentioning the Observatory and not just the tv and radio antennae up there)… Last night at about midnight I decided to look out to see whether I could see anything going on, and was greeted with a sight from the pages of Tolkien describing Orodruin (Mount Doom):
You can see the flames in the canyons near Mount Wilson’s summit, and as I watched Continue reading ‘Mount Doom?’
The fires are racing up the sides of Mount Wilson as I write (19:38). They expect the burn to get to the top sometime in the next few hours, and yes, I imagine it’ll affect the Mount Wilson Observatory in some way.
[Update (20:59): You can get regular updates from the director at this page*. Seems that fire crews will remain on site for when/if the fires sweep through the grounds. ]
All of the working scientific equipment, including the solar telescopes and of course the historic telescopes (the 60 inch is pictured to the right) with which astounding discoveries were made about our universe (such as the fact that it is expanding, and the fact that the universe is vastly more than just our Milky Way Galaxy) are presumably in some danger, as well as support buildings of various kinds. I’ve no idea how much since I do not know what fire-proofing measures are in place up there, although I am sure there are several – such as keeping brush away from the buildings themselves. Here’s a camera up there on one of the solar telescopes where you can see regularly updated pictures that it snaps. I grabbed this one just now (click for larger view):
So keep your fingers crossed for luck for the instruments, and of course for all Continue reading ‘Wish the Observatory Good Luck!’
There’s a remarkable amount of smoke in the skies here in Los Angeles. Strangely there is little or no wind to accompany this super-hot day, and so the smoke is largely staying over the region where the fires are – the San Gabriel mountains, North of La Canada, Altadena, etc.
There was a bit of movement of the smoke overnight, and early this morning (while the sun shone dull and red like a sunset instead of a sunrise) there was some ash fall over where I live (I was working outside on some writing while it was still cool), a good number of miles away from the fires, in the city of Los Angeles itself, but this seems to have gone away. So there are clear skies in all directions, and then ominous-looking mushroom clouds in one direction. It is odd. This stillness is the reason the firefighters are having a lot of difficulty fighting the fires, actually – the smoke is affecting visibility for the various ground and airborne crews. There’s a lot of concern about what the fires will do next, (including a threat to the Mt. Wilson Observatory) and so let’s all keep out fingers crossed for luck. [Update: 6:30pm - I've heard that they have no choice but the let the fires take Mount Wilson. I hope that the Observatory survives ok. If you're not familiar with the significance of the Mount Wilson Observatory, read here and here.]
Here’s a recent (about 5:00pm today) shot of the mushroom clouds of smoke. You can Continue reading ‘Smoke’
I was at an unusual and splendid event on Saturday. My friend and colleague, the writer Aimee Bender, organized a group of 25 of us to go to the top of Mount Wilson and spend the evening, mostly sitting in the dark, right up to well after midnight! What were we doing? Astronomy. We had the Mount Wilson Observatory’s 60 inch telescope entirely at our disposal!! This is not any old 60 inch telescope – it is one of the historic telescopes that’s up there, used since the early part of the 20th Century to discover things about our galaxy and beyond.
(See also a post I did about the 100 inch, and the hike you can do up the mountain to see the site. [Update: Note - For this trip, we drove up, carpooling!])
Aimee had reserved the space well in advance, and we had a guide and a telescope operator (the excellent Shelley Bonus and Arbi Karapetian, respectively), and we brought food, which was spread out on a large table alongside vats of coffee and hot water (for tea), supplied by the observatory.
This is an excellent way to spend an evening. Shelley is informative and enthusiastic, and does a great job of selecting various objects to be viewed (she also takes requests!) and giving lots of information and anecdotes about them, and much else besides. Arbi was also a gold mine of information.
The party was of 24 non-scientists (there were a lot of writers of various types, for example – poets, screenwriters, novellists, experts in poetry and literature and language…) and one physicist. As the latter, I tried to remain undercover, so as not to Continue reading ‘Mountain Astronomy Party!’