Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Station Fire Threatens Mt. Wilson

The Station Fire in the LA area has been on Mt. Wilson for many hours now. Most media are reporting the threat to the cluster of TV and radio transmitters there but Mt. Wilson is also home of the Mt. Wilson Observatory which includes the 2.5-meter/ 100-inch telescope.

This was the telescope used by Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason in the 1920s to observe the redshift in galaxies.

Today, Mt. Wilson is also the site of Georgia State University's CHARA array, an optical interferometer. CHARA is the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy at GSU. Hal McAlister is the director of CHARA and, according to the LA Times, also director of the Mt. Wilson Institute.

From the LA Times:

The top of the 5,712-foot mountain, which sits above Altadena, is home to multimillion-dollar astronomy projects for UCLA, USC and UC Berkeley. Georgia State University also operates a $20-million facility and a powerful telescope array at the Mt. Wilson Solar Observatory.

“A lot of people think of an observatory as one dome, but Mt. Wilson Observatory is actually a 40-acre tract of land with 50 to 60 buildings on it,” said Dr. Harold McAlister, director of the nonprofit Mt. Wilson Institute, which runs the observatory. “None of that stuff is portable, and to move telescopes out of there takes many weeks. We’re strictly at the mercy of nature and the great competence of the firefighters.”