Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lick Observatory


Today, for the last day of 2011, we went to the Lick Observatory.  It is about 45 minutes up twisty-turny roads from San Jose to Mt Hamilton where the multiple telescopes and their domes reside.  There must have been about 6 different domes housing everything from the massive 120 inch spectrograph Shane Telescope to the new 2.4 meter Automatic Planet Finder.

Possibly the most interesting was the James Lick Telescope.  It is a 36" refracting telescope (pictured at the beginning of this article) that was commissioned exactly 124 years ago on New Year's Eve of 1887.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy that night, so the telescope didn't see first light until Jan 3, 1888.  In our studies of Albert Einstein, we learned about the critical role that the astronomers at Lick Observatory played in confirming Einstein's theories by travelling to Australia and observing a solar eclipse.  It was fun to imagine W.W. Campbell (the astronomer who confirmed relativity) going up the 6.5% grade and 365 turn roadway to the observatory, probably in a horse and buggy.  Then when he arrived he, as many other famous astronomers did, he looked through the eye piece of that telescope... the one we saw today.  Pretty nifty.