Mount Wilson Observatory Threatened by the Station Fire

Once again, Southern California is coping with a large, out-of-control fire — this time near Los Angeles.  Over 85,000 acres have burned so far, and 1000s of homes are threatened and under mandatory evacuation orders.

Word was received yesterday that the famous Mount Wilson Observatory is also in the fire’s path, and late news today indicates that firefighters who have spent the last few days clearing brush and prepping the mountain have been ordered off. 

Here’s yet another article which explains just how vast the Mount Wilson complex is (50 to 60 buildings owned by UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley and Georgia State), as well as the presence of a large number of cell phone, television, and radio facilities on the mountain.   

Also, here’s a blog with frequent updates on the situation from Mount Wilson’s Director, Hal McAlister. 

Lastly, you can get updates from this Sky and Telescope magazine page, which includes a time lapse movie of webcam images of the fire as seen from Mount Wilson — at this writing, the webcam seems to either be down or so busy that it won’t load.   

Mount Wilson includes several very large telescopes and is of historical importance as the observatory where Edwin Hubble conducted research using the 100 inch Hooker telescope — which for many years was the largest in the world — leading to his recognition that the universe is expanding — and ultimately to the “Big Bang Theory” (a turn-of-phrase coined many years later by Fred Hoyle).

Greensboro Public Library has lots of books on astronomy, as well as a few that will no doubt discuss the Mount Wilson Observatory, such as Kevin Krisciunas’ Astronomical Centers of the World, and Stargazer:  The Life and Times of the Telescope by Fred Watson.

We’ve also got a DVD called The Journey to Palomar:  America’s First Journey into Space:  A Film which includes information on the history of Mount Wilson Observatory. 

And please don’t forget, you can find information about the Mount Wilson Observatory in Science Online.

UPDATE:  The latest post from Hal McAlister, which came in at 5:46 eastern time, indicates that “passage of fire across Mount Wilson is imminent and will be fought aerially rather than with ground personnel.”

UPDATE 2:  For the latest updates from Hal McAlister on Mount Wilson please go here.

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