Spending the night with Mount Wilson’s 60-inch telescope.
I departed Marina Del Rey @ 6pm and made it all the way to the Observatory’s front gate by 7:10pm. Not too bad for a Sunday, when all the freeways were jammed with people making their way back home after spending the day at beach and hordes of Dodger’s fans were exiting the stadium after an early game ended.
The Tower of Power
Mount Wilson’s historic 60-inch telescope, which revealed before World War I that the sun is not located at the center of the Milky Way, is available for private group viewing sessions. The views of planets, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies through the 60 inch, among the largest telescopes in the world accessible to the public, are unforgettable. During the 2014 season, a fee of $900 (half-night) / $1,700 (full night) could get you and up to 24 of your closest friends, a private late night viewing party.
One of the smaller, newer telescopes on top of Mount Wilson.
Due to the inversion layer that traps smog over Los Angeles, Mount Wilson has naturally steadier air than any other location in North America, making it ideal for astronomy and in particular for interferometry. The increasing light pollution due to the growth of greater Los Angeles has limited the ability of the observatory to engage in deep space astronomy, but it remains a productive center, with many new and old instruments in use for astronomical research.
Our group of 25 entered the Observatory grounds @ 7:45pm, which allowed us to catch the final moments of light while viewing the outside of the 60-inch Hale telescope which was built in 1908.
Are you ready?
The interior of the dome includes three levels:
Level 1 – bathroom, storage & lockers
Level 2 – offices
Level 3 – telescope/observation deck
Light is obviously not good at an Observatory, so red lighting or in some cases, no lighting, is used to enhance the viewing experience. It was funny watching people bump into everything when the lights were out. We quickly learned that dark clothing in an observatory probably wasn’t the best idea.
Face-to-face with the big 6-0.
Shelly, our astronomy guru, was amazing. I mean look at that hair and those incredible earrings.
Lining up the telescope with the opening in the roof is a thrilling experience, since the dome also rotates during the alignment process.
The yellow stairway to heaven.
Open Door Platform
George Ellery Hale received the 60-inch mirror in 1896 as a gift from his father, William Hale. However, it wasn’t until 1904 that Hale received enough funding to start building the actual observatory on top of Mount Wilson.
The first two objects we viewed through the telescope looked small and were extremely blurry. The third object we viewed was Saturn and both the Session Director and Telescope Operator said that this particular Saturn viewing was probably the clearest they’ve ever seen. I used my Iphone 5s to snap this picture, so it’s not even close to what it really looked like. This was def the highlight of the evening. Bonus points for capturing two of Saturn’s moons.
Where Mike the Telescope Operator works his magic and boy did we see some magic during our 6 hour private star party atop Mount Wilson. It truly was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had.
Want to experience some of that star magic for yourself? The Observatory is open to the public 10 am – 5 pm every day, weather permitting, and by special appointment. Docent-led tours are also offered during the weekends for a nominal fee or you can download a PDF for a free self-guided tour. More information is available on the Mount Wilson Observatory website. Atlas Obscura also occasionally organizes private events inside the Observatory’s historic telescopes (including the 100-inch Hooker), so follow their LA based events page for possible upcoming events.