Sunday, October 12, 2014

Visiting Griffith Observatory

Perched high above Hollywood, California is another landmark of American astronomy- Griffith Observatory.  While Mount Wilson has a unique place in the history of astronomical discovery, Griffith is best known for its significant outreach program.  It is an iconic structure, visible from 360 degrees below, and is recognizable even to those not (yet) interested in astronomy and space sciences. From Rebel Without a Cause to The Terminator and the Transformers, the building has captured the imagination of many since its completion in 1935.

I was visiting the observatory with my colleague Adam to tour the facilities and to meet with Griffith staff to discuss best practices and ways that we could be mutually supportive of each other.  We were treated to a comprehensive tour of the facilities and also took in a planetarium show in the Samuel Oschin theater, Centered in the Universe, which was without a doubt the best planetarium theater show either Adam or I had ever seen.

As mentioned, the observatory was completed in 1935 as the result of the vision of Griffith J. Griffith who had visited Mount Wilson and observed through the largest telescope in the word at the time, the 60-inch reflector.  He was so moved by the experience that following consultation with Mount Wilson founder George Ellery Hale, he established a fund with the goal of providing all of mankind the opportunity for inspiration that he had experienced at Mount Wilson. Unfortunately, Griffith passed away in 1919 and his dream was not realized until after his death.

Griffith Observatory
The observatory was opened with the same telescope still in use today, the 12-inch Zeiss Refractor.  This telescope is a work of optical and mechanical art and is housed in the east dome (at left in the above image) of the observatory.  I have provided a few images of this telescope below, on its original mounting.  Riding atop the 12-inch is a 9-inch refractor and Celestron 9.25-inch Schmidt Cassegrain.

In the west dome of the observatory (at left) is a Coelostat; a telescope dedicated to observing the Sun.  Coelostat is from the Latin and means "Sky Stopper."   Below, you can see Griffith's Coelostat which consists of three 13-inch mirror flats.  These are actually the 'second' mirrors in the optical path, as there is a larger flat out of view in the image which is pointed at the Sun and reflecting the image to the three flats.  Each of these three mirrors directs an image of the Sun to a different display inside the observatory exhibit hall: A white light image, a hydrogen alpha image, and a solar spectrum.  The other two images below are of the shaft of light being focused down through the dome floor to another flat and into the hydrogen alpha telescope assembly.

Finally, a fun image from inside the exhibit hall where there is a large Tesla Coil.  This is among the most popular exhibits at Griffith and certainly is unique.  Our host fired up the coil and I managed to take a picture of it in action.  At left  is an image of the whole exhibit, as well as a full resolution crop of the electrical current below.

After a week in LA, it is good to be home!

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