Friday, 28 February 2014

Looking Out

Alan has provided a wonderfully evocative photograph for this week's Sepia Saturday prompt which was taken on Mount Løvstakken in Norway.  Perhaps our trio are looking out for Henrik Ibsen to come walk into view. The photograph could certainly be a scene from one of his plays. I have a confession to make. I speed read and missed the musical trio reference because I read Röntgen, and thought German physicist.  Read Beyer and thought Friedrich one of the founders of the pharmaceutical giant. This indeed would have been a disparate trio to walk in the Norwegian mountains so no wonder my first thought was wow, who knew.  Well nobody did as I discovered when I reread the intro and it is the reason for my scientific take on the theme.  Having said that a telescope is definitely the star of the show but in this case a giant one.
The Westinghouse |Electrical and Manufacturing crew in South Philadelphia assemble in the rig that would later attach to the 200" mirror of the Palomar telescope.  Construction sites of companies all over the USA in the 1930s were all making different parts for the telescope.  Our story starts in 1928 when George Ellery Hale got a large Rockefeller grant to build an observatory and he started his search for an appropriate place to site it, having had to eliminate his original idea of the Los Angeles area due to light pollution.  That fact is rather appropriate because I found this photo on the Palomar Skies blog created by the then Public Affairs Coordinator who left Palomar to work for the International Dark Skies Association, he hoped that someone else would continue his Palomar blog.  Unfortunately it looks as nobody has but it remains a wonderful resource.

But lets get back to Hale who found his ideal position for the telescope in the early 1930s on the 5,600 feet of Palomar Mountain and proceeded to buy 160 acres from local ranchers and the US Forestry Service.  His next next problem was to get a 200" mirror. General Electric failed to make one out of fused quartz so that was $600,000 down the drain. He turned to Corning Glass who decide  Pyrex would be less prone to expand and contract than ordinary glass. At the second attempt they are successful. 

The project moves on in 1936 with construction of the dome
(Caltech Astronomy)
which also involves road building, cottages for personnel and camps for the workers. The next problem is to move the mirror blank across country and the crowds come out to watch the "Great Eye" travel by train in 1936 from New York to Pasadena.  The trip takes 16 days travelling at a speed of 25 mph and on arrival Caltech start to grind and polish the mirror, an immense task which is interrupted by World War 2 when production is stopped and the disk is stored and protected by timber for three years.  As Caltch explain "to make the final mirror, almost 10,000 pounds of glass are polished away, including the top two inches which contain "scar tissue" left over from the casting and annealing process". 

Now finished the mirror has to move from Pasadena to Palomar, enter the Belyea Truck Company, who were famous for driving a ship across a desert and saying there was no cargo they could not move.
In November 1947 the 40 ton cargo rested on 3 diesel tractors pushing it up the mountain.  The 25 mile trip is completed in 32 hours and engineers install the mirror but the image is not ideal so another two years are spent polishing and aligning and adjusting. In July 1948, although still not fully operational the telescope is dedicated and named after Hale who had died in 1938 his vision outliving him.  The story goes that in the last few days of his life Hale looked up into the sky and said  “It is a beautiful day. The sun is shining, and they are working on Palomar.”
Hale "The Journey to Palomar" University of Chicago
 Another famous name, Edwin Hubble took the first photograph with the "Big Eye" in January 1949 and the telescope became fully operational and remained the largest in the world until 1993.  Today it is still used for research and visitors are welcome to visit the public area or take a conducted tour.
Caltech's observatory on Palomar Mountain | Photo: Kevin L. Moore/Flickr/Creative Commons License



aspiritofsimplicity said...

I once worked in an office building that was housed in an old shoe factory. They had pictures like this all over the hallways. It was so interesting to get a glimpse of the old workers.

Wendy said...

I hope all those workers got a copy of that photo standing where the mirror would go. It would be such a fantastic keepsake for the people behind the scenes. What a smart way to convey just how large that mirror is.

Postcardy said...

Interesting post. There sure was a lot of time, work, and money involved in making that telescope.

Patrica Ball Morrison said...

Have been there to Cal tech long ago, took no photos. This is interesting history..I especially like that first photo of the Westinghouse workers...assembled

Brett Payne said...

So it seems that the Hubble Space Telescope was fated to be beset by delays and adjustments.

Mike Brubaker said...

A neat twist on the theme. Science seems to move so fast these days that we forget the many years and tremendous effort needed to build some of these early instruments. And all that precision was calculated and measured by human brain power without calculators or computers.

Boobook said...

I learn so much on Sepia Saturday.

Bob Scotney said...

Hail to Hale seems appropriate somehow.
I missed a trick this week as you have jogged my senior memory - I too astronomy as a general subject at university in the 1950s. I should have remembered the discussions that took place about Palomar then.

Little Nell said...

That’s an eye-catching photograph at the top of your interesting post, and how clever of you to touch on next week’s prompt too with the dome!