Journey to Palomar

I watched the PBS special Journey to Palomar a few days ago.   If you are space or astronomy enthusiast, you would really enjoy this show.  It was a great overview of the achievements of one man.  Despite great personal issues, Hale saw clearly the needs and future of astronomy.  What set him apart from his contemporaries was his ability to convince others that his grand ideas were achievable, even when the science and engineering had not yet appeared to complete his ideas.  If you have not had a chance to see this special I suggest you track it down.

Orion constellation and the Hale Telescope at Palomar
Orion constellation and the Hale Telescope at Palomar

It is incredible that one person could convince so many men to part with such large amounts of money for something as exotic as a telescope.  This all culminated in the building of the great 200-inch telescope.  Some have argued that the 200-inch telescope was ahead of its time and that its arrival suppressed the development of other telescopes for several decades.

The building of the various Hale telescope mirrors the ascendancy of the United States as a world scientific power house.  The brashness and grandness of their achievements, requires scientists and engineer to go where they never thought of going, and to do what many thought was impossible.  There has not been one big telescope built since, or being planned for the future, that does not owe much to Hale.  For me the success of the Hale 200-inch telescope is right up there with the success of putting a man on the moon.

It is hard to believe that Hale first approached the Rockefeller Foundation for funding for a 200-inch telescope in 1928.  In December 1928 the Corning mirror was poured by hand.  Due to WWII the mirror was stored in Pasadena and it was not until 1947 that it was transported to Mount Wilson for installation.  The telescope’s public inauguration was June 3, 1947, some 19 years after the original proposal.  It was not until 1999 and the unveiling of the Keck Telescope in Hawaii that the Hale telescope was eclipsed in size.  It had dominated the astromony world for 45 years.

What I got from this special, is that the Hale telescope was a great scientific instrument, and a true monument to one man and his driving vision and persistance, which even great men could not resist.  This Journey to Palomar special will leave you feeling small and in awe of this amazing man

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