A Night on Mount Wilson

On Friday, July 27th, the evening of our most recent blood moon lunar eclipse and Mars opposition, I had the tremendous good fortune to be invited to the Mount Wilson Observatory. Built in 1904 in the mountains to the east of Los Angeles, this is the home of the 100-inch Hooker Telescope, the largest aperture telescope in existance until 1949.

After a beautiful drive up with a picninc dinner on the mountainside, we entered the observatory just before dusk. Being a bit of a gear-head, the first thing I noticed was the smell of gear oil. My fellow star-gazers and I were taking advantage of the last light to poke around the beautifully machined iron and brass equipment when I saw something very familiar. 

Pictured above is the plate holder used to make the famous glass-plate photographs that defined astronomy for several decades; the very equipment used by Edwin Hubble in his discovery of the ongoing expansion of the universe.

The first photograph you see below is the famous image taken by Hubble that lead him to his expanding universe theory. Because the emulsion used at the time was so slow, galaxies moved during exposure and showed up as dashes rather than dots. The farther away from us, the faster they are moving. This ‘moving away’ is what alerted Hubble the ongoing expansion of the universe.

After the sky had darkened, we took turns looking through the telescope, viewing Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and many more celestial bodies. Occasionally we would head down to the kitchen to have a drink of water or snack, where we stood by the old darkroom sink. It was a spectacular way to spend a night, and I’m so thankful to Graham Howe and Casey Handmer for including me.

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