December 12, 2008
Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO) marked an important anniversary December 13. It has been 100 years since pioneer astronomer George Ellery Hale first gazed at the heavens through the observatory's historic 60-inch reflecting telescope.
The 60-inch was Earth's largest telescope at the time it was built. Creating its 1,900-pound mirror was a technological triumph. It established a new standard for large, precision-controlled reflecting telescopes.
The 60-inch established MWO as a leader in astronomical discoveries in the early 20th century. For example, Harlow Shapley used it to discover that our Sun was not the center of the universe, and that our galaxy is far larger than anyone imagined.
MWO's current director, Harold McAlister, says the anniversary is an occasion to look backward as well as forward. "The centennial naturally brings the telescope's technological and scientific greatness to the front of my mind," he says. "This event makes me even more determined that a second century be assured for Mount Wilson, which truly is a world-class science heritage site."
Senior Editor Daniel Pendick spoke with McAlister about the 60-inch telescope's place in astronomical history and its current scientific activities. Read "Happy birthday to a grand old telescope."
MWO's 100-inch Hooker Telescope is still used for research. And the 60-inch remains the largest telescope in the world made exclusively available for public viewing. Read about the observatory's public programs and efforts to preserve the site and its instruments at the MWO web site.