Mount Wilson Observatory is one of L.A.s famed attractions, so it
was time we paid it a family visit. It turned out to be a powerful and memorable
A word about the Observatory. It was founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale
under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Hale brought
the 60-inch Snow Solar Telescope from Yerkes Observatory in southern Wisconsin
to the remote and isolated Mt. Wilson (near Pasadena), where he continued
his studies of the sun. In 1919 a new and larger telescope (100 inches)
was installed enabling astronomers and the public to better observe the
stars and nebulae. That led directly to our current understanding of our
origins, the Big Bang model.
process of astronomy begun more than a century at Mt. Wilson continues
today around the world and in space with such instruments as the Hubble
Space Telescope, named for one of Mt. Wilsons outstanding astronomers.
The drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson is a long, twisting and nerve-wracking
one. We traveled by Lyft, whose neophyte driver was unfamiliar with the
route. The roads lack of signposts caused him to lose his way. We
drove around helplessly in the dusk for an hour or more before finally
spotting a hiker. Look for a red box, he shouted. It
marks the road to the Observatory!
By the time we made it to the Observatory it was 5.30pm. Helpful workers
(most of whom are volunteers, we later learned) pointed us to the museum
auditorium where astrophysicist and Mt. Wilson historian Dr. Eun-Joo Ahn
was giving a Saturday lecture on the forgotten women scientists
in the first decade of the Observatory. Then came the chance to
line up and peer through the twin telescopes, if only briefly. You saw
a star, then rotated the lens to catch a glimpse of the moon and/or other
The lecture was repetitive and boring, said my 17-year-old
grandson, Michael. But it does blow your mind to see the stars from
up here, especially if youre interested in science and have studied
astronomy in school. You feel a passion for the subject for maybe the
My daughter Lisa and her husband Iain were more positive about the lecture
(informative and interesting). They especially liked the scopes
and being able to see the moon up close, plus its nearby stars and other
parts of the galaxy.
views were magnificent, Iain said. He was also much impressed with
the erudite visitors, many of whom were either professional or amateur
astronomers. Some of them stood on the grounds armed with their own telescopes.
One man took a picture of Jupiter on his phone. He also had an app
that identified individual clusters of stars.
It was thrilling to be up there, Lisa added. I loved
everything about it, especially the museums. The staff was dedicated and
friendly, and we met lots of knowledgeable people. The only bummer was
the food. The café, we discovered, had closed at 5 pm, leaving
things to a single food truck. The only dish it served was a chunk of
micro-waved dough pretending to be pizza-at an exorbitant price.
We were not only hungry but chilled; the mountaintop gets cold and
windy after dark, Iain said. By 10pm we were ready to leave,
even though the exhibits stayed open to midnight.
Lisa fished out her i-phone to call Lyft. Are you kidding?
an onlooker cried. Didnt anybody tell you that Wi-Fi is banned
on the mountaintop?
Why is that?
It interferes with the Observatorys electronic and digital
How to get
home then? Members of the staff offered to take us down to Pasadena, where
Wi-Fi was readily available. But they couldnt get off work until
till midnight. Lisa began asking around for a ride. Person after person
turned her down. Finally, about an hour later, she found two visitors
from India who were willing to squeeze us into their small car. In Pasadena
we managed to reach Lyft, only to be obliged to wait for almost an hour
for a driver. He charged us a hundred bucks for the journey back to Beverly
Our visit to the Observatory was costly, Lisa commented. But
the money we shelled out (admission was $40 each) was well worth it. Being
able to look at the universe through those telescopes was a fabulous and