The Journey to Palomar
You will have to check your local listings…this week a special called the Journey to Palomar premieres on PBS. It chronicles the quest of George Ellery Hale to build the world’s largest telescope. And he did…four times! His telescopes include the Yerkes 40 inch refractor, the Mount Wilson 60 inch and 100 inch reflectors, and his namesake, the Hale 200 inch reflector at Mount Palomar.
The 200 inch (5 meter) Hale Telescope was the largest in the world for almost 30 years. As a child, it captured my imagination and I couldn’t think of a better job in the world than sitting in the observing cage all night long every night (I know…kids have some crazy ideas about good jobs!)
Thanks to modern cameras and upgrades, the Hale Telescope remains a productive scientific instrument 60 years after its completion.
The Hale Telescope also inspired me to ask questions. Namely, why haven’t we built a larger telescope in the last 30 years? As I explored the answer to that question, I started getting my first lessons in engineering and the limitations of technology at the time. Over the next thirty years, I have watched how we have overcome many of those limitations and we are now planning telescopes 30 meters across and more! These innovations include spun cast, low weight mirrors, segmented mirrors, advanced CCD cameras, and adaptive optics to remove atmospheric distortion.
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