From the May 2011 issue

Pioneering astronomy at Lick Observatory

It wasn’t easy building the first mountaintop observatory, but the effort was worth it.
By | Published: May 23, 2011 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The 36-inch Lick refractor was the largest in the world when it saw first light in 1888. Laurie Hatch
No tour of astronomical hot spots in Northern California would be complete without a pilgrimage to Lick Observatory. When it was finished in 1888, Lick immediately became the world’s premier astronomical research site. Until then, the biggest telescope was 26 inches in diameter. Lick’s gigantic refractor spans 36 inches, giving it nearly twice the light-gathering power of the 26-incher.

Of course, Mount Hamilton was a bit more isolated from civilization in 1888 than it is today. Back then, a work crew had to build a 26-mile (42 kilometers) road to access the summit. And there were no cars or trucks to lug equipment and supplies up. That task fell to horse-drawn wagons.

In the May 1988 issue of Astronomy, we celebrated the observatory’s centennial with John R. Gustafson’s look at the planning and construction of Lick as well as the early astronomical endeavors at the observatory. It will give you some historical perspective before you make your trip up Mount Hamilton.

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