Mount Wilson Celebrates Century of Hooker Telescope

Photo courtesy Mount Wilson Observatory
The Mount Wilson Observatory will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Hooker telescope with a public event Nov. 4

This week’s 50-plus-acre brush fire on Mount Wilson reminded Southern Californians of the scientific attractions on the mountain, and that they are significant — and worth celebrating.
About 15 people reportedly were evacuated from the Mount Wilson Observatory on Tuesday as firefighters made progress containing the blaze, working hard to keep it away from the site that was founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale and is known for housing two giant telescopes, including the 100-inch Hooker telescope that was, from 1917 to 1949, the largest in the world.
Conditions permitting, on Nov. 4, the public is invited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that telescope. From 2-9 p.m., lectures, films, exhibits and other events will take place throughout the afternoon at the observatory, including, at 4 p.m., a discussion led by astrophysicist Alex Filippenko.
Sam Hale, son of George Hale, also will be on hand to share the story of the Hooker telescope, which was used to prove the universe was expanding and that it extends beyond the Milky Way.
“They changed how we thought of the world,” said Dan Kohne, a trustee on the Mt. Wilson Observatory Board of Director. “It’s hard for us to imagine what a change that would’ve been.”
For its centennial celebration, the observatory will offer tours of the Hooker telescope and special viewings through it from 6:30-8:30 p.m., for which reservations will be required.
“For most people, the observatory is kind of an afterthought,” Kohne said. “I moved to L.A. in 1975 and I didn’t go up until three or four years ago, but once you get up there, it’s pretty amazing.”
Kohne and his colleagues on the board hope to turn the observatory into a destination. They plan next May to renew a concert series launched this summer that proved popular. They’ve also increased the number of school field trips they host by appealing, Kohne said, to the state’s next-generation educational standards.
“We’re trying to get people to think of it in another way than just ‘a place on the hill that’s really far away,’” Kohne said. “It’s less than an hour to drive there and when you get there, it’s amazing. My goal is when you have visitors from out of town, there’s always Disneyland and Universal Studios but that this can also be somewhere you can send people for a beautiful afternoon.”
The Mount Wilson Observatory is located above La Cañada Flintridge (enter “Mount Wilson Road” and “Mount Wilson Circle Road” in Google Maps.) The lower parking area, below the Cosmic Café, is available. A $5 U.S. Forest Service Pass is required to park.
For more information, visit mtwilson.edu.

— Mirjam Swanson

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