The great observatories of the world are responsible for many of the prolific astronomical observations of the twentieth century. Telescopic photograpy, radio dish data collection, and infrared imaging are among the many different techniques observatories have been able to employ to learn about the heavens.
The Palomar Observatory may be the most famous of all. With five telescopes operated by Cal-Tech’s graduate and post-doctoral students, the 200-inch Hale telescope is the most famous of all Palomar’s telescopes. Built in 1949, it was intended to overcome the onset of the southern California smog problem. Other noteworthy telescopes operated at Cal-Tech include a telescope to search for supernovae, a comet hunter, a trio of sky cameras looking for planetary and other celestial phenomena, an interferometer capable of detecting the slightest wobble in the orbits of a planet, and a sixty inch telescope responsible for spotting the first brown dwarf circling a companion star.
Cal Tech is also directly involved in the operation of the Keck and Lick Observatories. The Keck Observatory, located on top of Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano contains the world’s largest optical and infrared telescopes. Its twin Keck telescopes stand eight stories high and weigh 300 tons each. Lick Observatory is located on 4200 foot Mount Hamilton east of San Jose, California. It contains nine research telescopes with the largest being the Shane 3-meter Reflector. This telescope is used to observe everything from our local solar system to faraway galaxies.
The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is known for its12-inch Zeiss Refracting telescope. This telescope’s fame is largely due to the fact that it has been used to allow public viewing of the universe since 1935. More than five million people have looked through its lenses since under the guidance of experienced Telescope Demonstrators. The Griffith Observatory was also known for its laserium light shows in previous years although they have been discontinued at present.
The Hayden Planetarium in Boston is more than just a planetarium. It is also a museum. Along with its Gilliland Observatory, laser-light shows and a rotating star simulator are among some of the different multi-media astronomical experiences available to the public.
The Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge, England was established in 1675 by King Charles II in order partially to fix longitude readings. It currently fixes the origin of the worldwide time reference point of Greenwich Mean Time. An observatory in Portland Maine is being restored as a famous architectural monument. Another observatory of note is the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory with its five telescopes.
All of these observatories have added to the vast array of knowledge now known about the universe. Their importance to the history of astronomy, as well as their continuing usefulness, can not be overemphasized.
1) Palomar observed: For more than 50 years, science above and beyond; Scott LaFee; San Diego Union Tribune; November 2, 2005
2) CalTech Astronomy Website;
3) UC Observatories Website
4) Yerkes Observatory Website;
5) Griffith Observatory Website;
6) Observatory view worth preserving; by John Alphonse.
7) Hayden Planetarium Website.
8) The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh: A Guide to Edinburgh’s Popular Observatory