Visual Observing with the Mt. Wilson 60 inch Telescope
September 13, 2008
Photos by Fred Bruenjes and Jen Winter
While in town for the PATS telescope show in Pasadena, ICSTARS Owners, Jen Winter & Fred Bruenjes were invited by good friend John Fisanotti for a night of observing at Mt. Wilson. Originally, John confused us by sending two separate invitations, one to the local club's star party from his account and another to view from the 16" Meade LX200 SCT at Mt. Wilson from his wife, Claribel's account. With much chagrin and frustration, Fred and Jen worried over manners of accepting one spouse's invitation but not the other so we asked about meeting the couple at PATS so the final decision could be made. We quickly learned that John sent both invitations, but through a 'default email address' snafu, the Mt. Wilson offer mistakenly appeared to come from Claribel! Despite being weary from a full day of tending the DayStar Filters booth and outdoor solar observing demo, we knew it would be great fun and happily accepted Claribel's invitation. We agreed and met after PATS at a parking location at the base of Mt. Wilson to ride together up the hill. We congratulated Claribel for her wisdom in selecting such a good option, while listening to John explain once again that it wasn't Claribel at all. We don't care. It's still funny, so we are still congratulating Claribel.
On arrival to the gate, we were ushered in by Tom Meneghini to visit the 16" Meade. We visited for a while with Tom at the 16" with really stunning views of Jupiter under a moonlit night with 2 other friends of Tom. Fred struggled to maintain propriety and keep his hands off the keypad, since he is so familiar with them - but Jen was more thumbs with the hand controller. "I'm a big dob user", Jen cited. "That is when I'm not solar observing." Once Tom was informed that Jen owns DayStar, he produced the front ERF for the 16" post haste. "The ERF glass size is too small." Jen grumbled in passing. After another few minutes joking and looking Jen suggested she should check in on the filter itself and make sure it was fully operational - if Tom was interested. So later when Superintendent, Dave Jurasevich stopped in, he escorted Fred and Jen over to the Snow solar telescope to find it. After unsuccessfully rifling through dusty cabinets in the historic telescope, we eventually found the filter mounted to a refractor, poised for use. The filter was decidedly boxed up for service at DayStar and brought back to the car. Dave walked us back into the dome of the 16" where he announced, "What are we doing looking through the 16? Let's go open up the 60 inch!" So the small troupe of us carefully closed up the Meade and moved to the epic 60" reflector.
John pointed out that Sky and Telescope would be publishing an article on the historic 60" later this month, on the 100th anniversary of it becoming the largest telescope in the world. It held that distinction until 1917 when the Mt. Wilson 100" was completed. John said, " you guys have to come look at the lockers!" It seems that the names on the basement work lockers hadn't been changed since they originally read "Hubble", "Zwicky", etc... Someone had politely installed a book in Mr. Hubble's locker for him.
We six lucky observers enjoyed amazing views through a moonlit sky of some breathtaking objects. It took more time to open the dome slit than to find any of the objects we hunted for. The moonlight offered some challenges in locating objects that would show well and that were at the right declination window for the telescope. Tom was an absolute ace at centering each object perfectly into the eyepiece each time. Dave stopped in a few times between exposures to share stories of high alititude obsering. It seems Jen and Dave both know the effects of diamox on the observer very well. Tom boasted that the scope was impervious to the impact of an observer climbing on it. So out of curiosity, Jen knocked on the eyepiece plate and saw no movement. She stomped her foot on the telescope itself with not a jitter to the image. It was rock solid.
Mt. Wilson is an iconic location in astronomy, with a history and discoveries far too rich to list here. Mt Wilson is remarkably gifted with fantastic seeing (steady air with few temperature changes), enabling much sharper views of the sky than elsewhere in the country. Individuals and organizations can rent time in either 1/2 night or full night observing sessions. Proceeds directly support research and outreach operations at the Mt. Wilson facility. For more information on the 60" telescope, visit the Mt. Wilson website at: http://www.mtwilson.edu/60-inch/60inVisitorInfo.html.
Standing one-foot on the ladder, the other firmly on the back end of this goliath, the moon shone down on each observer. Viewing Neptune, close to the moon after the previous week's occultation, the moon lit the entire telescope before us. Suddenly, a vantage point with connections was clear. We were viewing Neptune, a planet so remote as to be discovered by mathematics before observation. We were standing astride the business end of what was, for some time, the worlds' largest telescope. It makes one wonder who else's shoe made the same footprint under ours. We were allowed this rare opportunity because of the unwanted moonlit sky conditions. But it was the moon's light which offered the perspective of such a syzygy of planet, moon, telescope and privileged observers behind.
After observing each new object our giddiness grew, and before long the aperture-induced inebriation resulted in Tom, Jen, and Fred spouting our favorite Monty Python sketches and singing 'the lumberjack song' between and during peeks through the eyepiece.
Eventually, the observing session would come to an end. The dome slit closed with an ominous groan and the lights brought color back to the room. Tom took the eyepiece out and as Jen was gaping at the open 4" focuser, she noticed, "It has a Telrad!"
What a GREAT NIGHT!
All text and images are © 2008 Fred Bruenjes and Jen Winter - All Rights Reserved. Image inlining (hotlinking) and/or framing are strictly prohibited. No reproduction, dissemination, repackaging, hosting, or other use of these images is allowed without written permission.