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Cecil Scaglione, Editor

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Historic Palomar Observatory

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By Tom Morrow 

With a $6 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, astronomer George Ellery Hale orchestrated the planning, design, and construction of the world’s largest astronomical telescope on Palomar Mountain about an hour northesat of San Diego, CA. 

It took 20 years to complete the Hale telescope that was double the diameter of the 100-inch-diameter reflecting telescope in the Mt. Wilson Observatory north of Los Angeles. The Palomar project pioneered many new technologies in telescope-mount design and in the fabrication of its aluminum coated “honeycomb” Pyrex mirror. Since its completion in 1949, Palomar in active use as one of the world’s largest and most-sophisticated land-mounted telescopes. 

For more than 30 years, the Hale Telescope represented the technological limit in building large optical telescopes until the Soviet Union built a six-meter (236 inches) one in 1976. Palomar remained the world’s second largest until 1993 with the construction of the two 300-plus-inch Keck optical telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Maui.. 

Palomar is operated by the California Institute of Technology and continues to conduct research programs that cover the vast range of our observable universe, including near-Earth asteroids, outer Solar System planets, Kuiper Belt objects, a variety of star formations, and black holes. Research research partners include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,Yale University, and the National Optical Observatories of China.  

The first telescope built on the Observatory complex was an 18-inch Schmidt camera put into operation in 1936. In addition to the giant 200-inch Hale Telescope, there are the 48-inch Schmidt Telescope, Palomar 60-inch Telescope, and 12-inch Gattini Telescope, all of which are involved in continual research. The 48-inch and 60-inch telescopes operate robotically and are active in deep-space exploration.

While Palomar Observatory is a research facility, there are selected Observatory areas open to the public during the day. Visitors can take self-guided or guided tours of the 200-inch telescope daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The observatory is open seven days a week except for Dec. 24-25 and during inclement weather.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 23, 2023 at 2:00 am

Posted in News / Events, Travel

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