11 Jul 2013
Greetings from cloudy Palomar! It s deliciously cool and breezy here, which is great for exploring, but not so great for observing (more on that later). Eric has a few nights on the mighty 200″, and his Dad and I are here to share in all the adventures. I have been doing some reading about the history of the mountain and the telescope, and I want to share a few of my favorite gems with you. Palomar is an unusual mountain for Southern California–most of them border the desert and are brown, rocky, and scrubby. But Palomar is lush and green, covered with ferns and redwoods and wildflowers.
There are wild sweet peas growing everywhere. I love them. When we were here a month ago, it was nothing but lupines as far as the eye could see, but now the sweet peas have taken over. I love being able to see that kind of change take place.
The name Palomar is Spanish for dovecote, and it was given in honor of the band-tailed pigeons that make this mountain their home (apparently dovecotes are also houses for pigeons–who knew?). I love seeing the pigeons and tree squirrels and everything else that thrives here. So far I have seen a deer, a skunk, and a scorpion (yikes!), but I am hoping to spot an owl and some of the band-tailed pigeons before we go.
I want to give you a little behind the scenes look at what Eric does here. The magic happens in the control room (unlike in the olden days, when astronomers used to ride all night in the cage at the top of the telescope!). It’s an awful lot of computer screens, and it’s pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, tonight there is a huge cloud cover, which will prevent them from being able to open the dome. The cloud cover prevents them from being able to see anything, but low clouds also present danger in the form of condensation–super bad for the telescope! For those of you who are interested, here are a few links to some time-lapse videos of the cleaning and re-aluminizing of the mirror. It’s amazing stuff. (And, there is a free documentary about Palomar on Hulu). This is the cloud camera in the control room. As you can see, it’s pretty severe! The planets are marked to the right, and the sources that Eric planned to observe are to the left. Those wire things sticking out are used to thread fishing wire over the camera so that owls don’t land on it.