MT. Wilson Telescope
This is an image of the 60" telescope located atop the Mt. Wilson Observatory here in Southern California. The scope and structure were built and completed around 1908, and, if you can believe it, most of the material and the structures, etc. were hauled up the 9.5–mile trail to the summit via mule carts. In those days, there was no serviceable road wide enough to handle the trucks of the day. The telescope and the mounting base alone are 21.5 tons of moving parts, all brought up and erected by hand. Amazing!
After all these years of faithful service, the scope has finally outgrown its useful life as a cutting-edge tool for scientific research. Soon, the scope will be retrofitted with the hardware and processing power needed to make it a user–friendly "go–to" telescope.This is the scene we are creating.
This telescope is similar to those that amateur astronomers use these days. For the past six years, it has been available for rental on a nightly basis as part of a public outreach program. However, recent innovations will enable groups of casual observers to skew the scope via simple lap–top key strokes to any object in the night sky, adding another layer of functionality to this already incredible machine. Not being an astronomer myself, I can imagine that this telescope might ruin anybody who is fortunate enough to look through it. After playing with this massive, still extremely bright Mt. Wilson 60" scope, who will want to go home to their ordinary backyard scope?
Dave Jurasevich, the superintendent of the sprawling Mt. Wilson facility (seen here looking through the eye piece), explains to visitors that this observatory is akin to a cathedral of science. It is indeed a masterpiece of engineering, designed by George Ellery Hale and the chief optician George Ritchey, who is also responsible for the mechanical design of the scope.
For this photograph to work, we had to spend several long, hard hours hauling the extra telescope attachments up from the deepest recesses of the basement via a removable floor plate, and then scattering them about the observatory deck. In addition, we generally tore up the existing facility in order to achieve the desired look of fullness. The scene and the look of the shot are absolutely real. I have not added anything on the computer that did not really exist. Even the stars in the night sky show streaking, as the sky portion of the exposure lasted a good one minute and the stars moved during that part of the shot. The redness of the interior dome is not, as it might seem, rust but a sort of prayed-on cork or paint coating applied years ago to insulate the interior of the structure.
In addition to Dave Jurasevich, pictured here at the lap top is Ed Johnson, himself an avid amateur astronomer and telescope builder of some note. Finally, the guy on the platform on the upper left, Shawn Hendrix, is also an amateur astronomer who worked very hard as a volunteer for nine hours to help make this shot possible.
Given the richness of history and science accomplished at this magnificent observatory over the last hundred years, it was my hope that the photograph we created together would be worthy of the character demonstrated by all those who preceded us, to stand as a testament to the creative and adventurous spirit of those giants who toiled so hard all those years ago. Time will tell.
A special thanks is due Dr. Harold McAlister, Regents´ Professor of Astronomy, Georgia State University, and director of the Mt. Wilson facility. Thanks to his trust and vision, all shooting fees were waived in exchange for prints of the finished image. Without his faith and generosity this shot would not have been possible.