Monday, June 27, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Observatory: Albert Michaelson's Interferometer

The last thing I did before I made my descent was to check out the CHARA exhibit hall. Inside it they have the interferometer that physicist Albert Michaelson helped develop. This 20-foot device was placed on top of the 100-inch scope. The mirrors combined to produce a higher resolution. Interferometry is the big word, but for our purposes the goal of this device was to determine the diameter of stars. The room was too small to get a whole picture of it so I had to stitch two pictures together:One example of this that I mentioned in the video was the diameter of the red giant star Betelgeuse. During the winter months you can easily see the constellation Orion in the sky. It is well known and even mentioned in the book of Job (9:9 and 38:31) in the Bible along with the Pleaides which is the group of stars that you can barely see at the very top of this next picture. The following is a screen shot from the Stellerium program that shows Orion. I zoomed into Orion. The constellation is supposed to be the mighty hunter Orion. His "belt" is the three stars in the middle. The tip of his dagger below his belt is where the Orion Nebula is. Betelgeuse is where his right shoulder is.On December 13, 1920, With the use of the interferometer, they were able to determine the diameter of the star. They found out that if you were to place Betelgeuse where our sun is it would engulf all the planets out to Jupiter. So, we are talking at least beyond the orbit of Mars to the orbit of Jupiter. In any case, it is VERY BIG!

After this I went back to the water fountain one more time. Then I started the trek down. In a few hours I made it back to my car and got home safely. The one thing I was a bit concerned about is that I had heard that you can encounter rattlesnakes on this trail. My concern is if one were on the narrow trail I would have a hard time getting around it. It was warm enough on the way down for one to be on the trail. That never happened, but a ton of lizards were running around.

One thing about Mt. Wilson during that day was it was very quiet, and there were few people walking around. Those people probably worked there, and I may have been the only visiter there that day. There are areas marked off that are clearly private and tell you not to go there because the astronomers are sleeping. The one area I had hoped to get to was the speed of light experiment area that Michaelson did his famous test to determine the speed of light. Unfortunately, that is in one of the areas the public is not supposed to go to even though they have a few markers at the spot. I probably could have used my silent skills to get there without causing problems, and I know some have, but out of respect for the history of the observatory I did not do it. It is one thing when museums that take your money will not allow you access to things like this, but since the observatory is free to visit I wanted to be extra respectful about following the rules that have.

Einstein Was Here! (Youtube Version)

Einstein was Here! (Vimeo Version)

Ocean of Clouds at Mt. Wilson (Vimeo: some alternative footage I shot for the ending of my hiking video. It is kind of interesting because they were flying in the parts via helicopter.)

Stellerium (The free program I used for the two pictures above. I highly recommend getting this if you have any interest in the night skies.)

Mt. Wilson Observatory (Official Site)

Again, books and other printed material are the best to read about all these topics, but just as a starting point:

Albert Michaelson (Wikipedia article)

Astronomical Interferometer (Wikipedia article)

Mt. Wilson Observatory Association Booklist

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Observatory: The 100-Inch Telescope

(GPS: N34° 13.545 W118 03.430)

Last time I was crossing the bridge to get to the most famous telescope at the observatory. There are many plaques with signs about each scope around the observatory. There is usually a timeline, pictures of discoveries by the scope, write-ups of the important discoveries, and a "blue print" of the telescope. This is part of the one for the 100-Inch Telescope.From the bridge you just go to your left and around the corner in this following picture. Then there are two open doorways. You can go up either one because it gets you to the visiter room to view the telescope. In the video, I kept walking up the stairs just because I liked the effect of it, but no need to post pictures of them here.This telescope is known as the Hooker telescope because Joseph Hooker was the one who invested the money into making it. What happened in astronomy during the late 19th and 20th centuries is scientists were dependent on very wealthy philanthropists to donate and invest in observatories and their telescopes. Observatory director George Hale had to spend much time lobbying for funds rather than spending all his time doing more scientific research. Hale was always pushing for bigger telescopes. After the 60-inch scope he wanted a 100-inch telescope built. In around 1906, the 100-inch mirror was okayed for production in France. It was finished in 1908 and sent across the Atlantic. When it finally arrived Hale and others examined it with great anticipation. Unfortunately, there were bubbles in the disk and the glass was fused. This was a major let down since they realized they would not be able to use it. After thoughts of getting a new mirror, Hale decided it might work after all. So, he had the mirror grounded and polished in 1910 and finished in 1916. It was finally taken up the dirt road to Mt. Wilson on July 1, 1917. The telescope was ready and first used in November of 1917. However, due to World War I, the scope was not really used until after the war was over.What you see above is the bottom part of the telescope. The 100-inch mirror resides there. It is a reflecting telescope in that it captures the light and reflects it off the mirror for viewing. The picture below is just looking straight up the frame of the scope.
In the following picture, Edwin Hubble is on the left and James Jeans is on the right. There is a chair, known as the Hubble Chair, that can move into place to view the telescope. The scope, the dome, and the chair can move into place to view whatever part of space needs to be viewed.There is the Hubble Chair. You can see how it would movie into position. Essentially, it is the same scope that went up on 1917. I am sure there have been part replacements, etc., but the mirror and what you see is the same.There is where the dome can open up.
As I mentioned last time, the prevailing view was that the only galaxy that existed was our Milky Way Galaxy. What people believed they were seeing through telescopes were only nebulas that existed in our own galaxy. Harlow Shapley was a leading advocate of this point of view.

Edwin Hubble began using the 100-inch telescope in the 1920's. He favored the alternative hypothesis of the time that we are part of an island universe where there are many galaxies beyond our own out there in space. The problem was that during this time there was no way to gage the distances on how far these nebula were away from earth. On October 4, 1923 he was doing his nightly routine of taking pictures of various nebula when he took a picture of the "Andromeda Nebula". Hubble examined the picture later and noticed a new speck of light in the nebula. He indicated it was a nova. Then, while going through old pictures back to 1909 of the same spot he determined he had found a variable star. Not just any variable star, but a Cepheid variable star. This type of star changes its luminosity in a cycle over a period of about a month in such a way that it can be used as a "standard candle" in astronomy. Basically, a common analogy is, if you know you have a 100-watt lightbulb you can measure its brightness to determine how far away it is from you. The further it is away from you the dimmer it will be, but you can measure that based on your knowledge of how bright it would be a few feet from you.

Hubble ended up finding more Cepheid variable stars and had definite evidence that the spiral nebula they were seeing were not nebula after all, but were much further beyond our galaxy. The Andromeda Nebula was really a galaxy itself: the Andromeda Galaxy. So, from this discovery at this telescope we found out that we are just one galaxy among many in the universe.

The second discovery was done years later. By 1929, Hubble, with Milton Humason, had determined the distances to 24 galaxies. They noticed the galaxies were red shifting. By measuring the velocities of the galaxies they found out that the velocity increased the more distant the galaxy was. A galaxy 10 million light years away travels twice as fast as the galaxy 5 million light years away. Basically, the galaxies were moving away from each other at great speeds. This was the evidence that our universe is expanding, and was the foundation for the Big Bang Theory about the beginning of the universe.

I'll cover one more item at Mt. Wilson Observatory next time as I wrap this one up.

Lots of books can be found about the Mt. Wilson Observatory, Edwin Hubble, and this telescope. A good non-technical level book is Marica Bartusiak's The Day We Found the Universe. She gives all the background history needed and emphasizes that it was not just one scientist that made these discoveries, but each scientist laid down the necessary research as the foundation for the major discoveries.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Observatory: Einstein Was Here!

Continuing from the last blog about the solar telescope...

I mentioned last time that when the observatory was founded in 1904 until 1919 it was known as the Mt. Wilson Solar Observatory. During that time there were three major solar telescopes here: The Snow Solar Telescope, The 60-Foot Solar Tower, and the 150-Foot one I showed some of last time. The solar was dropped from the observatory name in 1919.

I continued walking for a few minutes and passed by the dome of the 60-inch telescope dome. It is a reflecting telescope with a 60-inch diameter mirror. This telescope was completed in 1908 and was the biggest in the world at the time until replaced by a bigger one at this observatory. It is the only telescope at Mt. Wilson the general public can use for a fee.
In 1916, Harlow Shapley used the scope to determine that the M13 gobular cluster of stars is 36,000 light years from us. This showed that the Milky Way Galaxy we reside in was quite large. At that time, since they were still trying to figure out how to gage distances, it was believed that our galaxy was the only one out there. We'll get to some of the historical debate on this in the next blog. One thing to add on this is that Shapley assumed that M13 was closer to the center of the galaxy, while our sun and the earth were far away from the center. We now know this to be true.
In the above picture, the 60-inch dome is off behind the trees to the right side of the picture. The little building to the left is the "galley" where astronomers could make their meals, drink coffee or tea...more on this in a moment. However, notice that little drinking fountain next to the short stairs! I was so relieved to see that. It was so cold, and I made sure my water bottles were filled up for the hike down. I knew I would be okay going down now. See the little dome in the distance? Notice the pipes running from it to the right side of the picture? Those same pipes are in the picture below. This is just part of the CHARA (Center for High Angular Resolution Astonomy) Array. Spread throughout Mt. Wilson in a Y-formation are a total of six domes each with a telescope. Each scope has a one meter (3+ feet) diameter mirror that captures light, the light is transported through the pipes, and sent to the central Beam Combining Lab. Computers are involved lining up all the mirrors to combine with each other. This allows the Array to see as if it were a single telescope about 400 meters in diameter. It can see the fine details in stars and star systems. The concerns with CHARA are the issues of star diameters, shapes, surface tempatures, masses, distances, and luminosities. The pamphlet I got from there says it is the structural equivalent of seeing a nickel 10,000 miles away which totally blows my mind. It is run by Georgia State University. BTW, there are a bunch of universities that use the equipment at Mt. Wilson. Each doing their own projects. Here is a picture of Albert Einstein and others when he visited Mt. Wilson. In the above picture where I was at the "galley" with the drinking fountain, you just turn around and there is a bridge that takes you to the 100-inch dome. the picture below is really close to where he would have been, and there is a little plaque that notes this with above picture. They have more trees around, the bridge has changed a little, but this is where he was standing. There is another picture out there of Edwin Hubble on this same bridge at this point. Hubble will be discussed in the next blog. The deal was that George Hale was very strict about where the astronomers could make and eat their food. The risk of fire destroying the telescopes, equipment, and the whole observatory was and is still a concern. Fortunately, this did not happen during the Station Fire a few years back, but they do have large water tanks on reserve for fighting fires at Mt. Wilson. That is why Hale set up the galley and other places for astronomers to eat and prepare food.
In the next blog I will cover the 100-inch telescope that revolutioned astronomy by showing our place in the universe in the early to mid-20th century. Unlike, the other domes, we actually get to view the whole telescope through a window.

Einstein Was Here! (Youtube Version)

Einstein Was Here! (Vimeo Version)

The Chara Array website (Georgia State University)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Observatory: The Solar Telescope

(GPS: N 34° 13.480 W 118° 03.520)

This blog continues with one of the major goals I had of the hike: exploring Mt. Wilson Observatory. A few years back I was about a week away from coming to the observatory, and that was when the station fire took place that pretty much closed not only the observatory to the public, but the Angeles National Forest for most of the year. Keep in mind that it is only open to the public from April 1st to November 30th, so I was very disappointed at the time because it was something I had wanted to do for a few years. If you followed this blog during that period I was very frustrated because there were fires in Yosemite about the same time. It was one of those things that burned me out, no pun intended, because of all the training and preparation for nothing.

That was then, but when I did the Mt. Wilson Trail it was a case of killing two birds with one stone: exercise hiking on the historic trail and getting to see the observatory. The only problem is it was very dry and hot up at the top. At the end of the Mt. Wilson Trail video, I showed the direction I needed to go to the observatory. After entering I encountered the museum.

The museum is one room with walls of astronomical space pictures with explanations, a few artifacts, and a few models. I spent a little time there, but was more interested in exploring everything else. So, just turning around from the above picture I encountered the 150-Foot Solar Telescope.
The Mt. Wilson Observatory started off as a solar observatory. George Hale, the founder with funding from Andrew Carnegie, originally did much research in the area of studying the sun's magnetic properties. While most people think of astronomy as looking at stars at night, astronomers have, and still do, study the the closest star we have during the day. That is, the sun itself. So, the scientists here do work in the day and at night. What you see above is the elevator that takes one to the top of the telescope. Many famous people and scientists have gone up it. When one examines the sun with one of these telescopes, one usually sees black spots on the sun. These spots are where intense magnetic activity (aka solar storms on the surface of the sun) takes place. There is usually an 11 year cycle for the sun spots. One major focus of studying the sun and the black spots is trying to figure out the exact mechanisms cycle and what produces them.

As I write this, much is being talked about in the news about the sun going into a "solar silence" phase where there will be little sunspot activity by around 2020. If that does happen then the question will be for how long, and what does that mean for us on the earth? We have not had this happen since 1645 to 1717, almost 400 years ago. I'll let you google the news articles and link some basic wiki articles for starters below.

The solar telescopes main instrument is called a magnetograph which takes the readings of the sun. Not only does it note the sunspots, but also the rotation rate of the sun. Also, each day simple drawings of the sun are made and sent to a couple of centers in the U.S. in an effort to predict extreme solar activity that can disrupt global communications.

As for me, the sun was making itself known to me in a bad way. The hike was easy while I was under the cool clouds, but once I got past cloud level things really warmed up. The observatories drinking fountains were not working, the little water and gatorade I had was getting warm, and I started to get a little concerned about the trip back down. Without liquids on a hot hike down could lead to a very bad situation! Yet, for the sake of science I pushed myself on to the the rest of the observatory.

Einstein Was Here! (Youtube Version)

Einstein Was Here! (Vimeo Version)

I'll say this a few times as I do this. Personally, when it comes to science I would much rather read books and articles by scientists to understand the concepts. However, Wikipedia is a good starting point, but not the be all end all of understanding, be it science or any other discipline. With that caveat:

Sunspot (wiki article)

Maunder Minimum (wiki article)

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Manzanita Ridge to the End)

(GPS: N 34° 13.355 W 118° 03.755)

Continuing from last time for the final stretch of the trail...

After climbing over the big rock in the middle of the trail, there was not much left to get to Manzanita Ridge. At the ridge the area opens up, and you can see way back down. The trail splits at this point to another area, but I just stayed on the main trail to Mt. Wilson. There is a bench waiting there if one wants to use it, but I kept going. In the following picture, it looks like you can go up on a trail to the left, but the main trail is just going straight.
It was at this point that morning, since I had just elevated above cloud level, that I finally saw the TV transmission towers on Mt. Wilson. It was really cool below, but now that I was above cloud level I started to really feel the sun.
Finally, I reached the old dirt toll road. It was around this point the two trail runners I saw earlier passed me as they were coming back down.
As I was walking on the road, I looked toward the east and saw Mt. Baldy far away in the background of this next picture.
It is at this point I started to encounter more man-made things. The dirt road I was on connects with another dirt road and, because of this, some hikers have been confused here. The hiking trail is not in this picture because it is more off to the right.
There was not too much further to go, but the final stretch of the hike started to wear me down a bit. This is because it was a lot warmer with the sun starting to beat me down. I started to worry a little. Everything that I had planned had worked out, but I did not have enough water for a hot hike going down. I knew the cool cloud cover was going to be gone before I could reach it on the way down. I did finally reach the end and was greeted with this monument:
Basically, the mountain is named after Don Benito Wilson (AKA Benjamin Davis Wilson). He was the one that had the trail built in the 1860's in his pursuit of good lumber. Oddly enough, Wilson is connected to a historical event that will show up in my Ramona series in a month or two.
Some trees block the views up there. The clouds made it look like I was looking into an ocean, and the one "island" in the background is Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. What you don't see is that the Tv transmission towers were behind me, but that is not open to the public. And, it turns out there is a public parking lot just behind me too. That is the one thing I left out about this hike: you do not have to hike the trail to get to the top of Mt. Wilson. One can drive paved roads to get up to the parking lot. There were some construction workers doing some work there, and the parts were being flown in via helicopter.

I consider this a really good exercise hike in that it will get you in shape for elevation hiking. It is about 4,600 ft. in about 7 miles. I would consider going back just to hike only part of the trail for this. Most people do not go all the way to the top anyways. Keep in mind though, unless you like going uphill this is not a leisure hike.

Is it scenic? I have read a lot of people say this about this hike, but I feel the same way about this one in the way I feel about most southern California hikes. I do not consider the views along the way that impressive. We are not talking Sierra Nevada hiking here. This is why it is really difficult for me to post these type of hikes unless there is something historically significant about them. There are a lot I do for exercise, but it has been very rare for me to mention them on here because there is really nothing to them. This trail I thought was worth mentioning because of its history, and it was a "deep backcountry hike" for the people hiking it over a century ago. These days the big city is right below.

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Youtube Version)

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Vimeo Version)

Don Benito Wilson (Wikipedia article)

Mt. Wilson (Historical article by the Sierra Club)

Music for the video: Incompetech's The Whip Theme (Extended Version)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Continuing To Orchard Camp)

(GPS: N 34° 11.930 W 118° 03.230)

Continuing from where I left off last time...

After being out in the open until First Water, one starts to encounter a little more tree cover for the middle part of the hike. If the hot sun is out then this is the part that it starts to get nice to get away from it.
Around the half-way point I encountered what is known as Orchard Camp. The following pictures are not that good, but I hope they give you a sense of what is going on at this historic site. Along the way some of the water stream drainage that one encounters is down below. So, there is about a 25 ft. drop here from where I was standing.
Then just to my left was this tree and what looks like the foundations to something.
When the Wilson Trail was being created there was a place built here known as the Halfway House. It was a construction camp made not only for creating and maintaining the trail, but for collecting tree wood from the mountain and brought back down. The Mt. Wilson trail was created with the intention that it would be a source for lumber. Later on two men, George Aiken and George Islip, planted a bunch of chestnut and fruit trees here. This is why it then became known as Orchard Camp. It was around 1890 that the buildings here were turned into a trail resort. It was very popular and, as author John Robinson notes (I link the book below), at the highpoint of 1911 over 40,000 people signed the register here. By 1940 the camp was abandoned.
Apparently, flooding from later years destroyed the buildings that were here and all that you can see these days is the foundations to them.
Since this was not my final goal, I did not spend much time here, but even today looks like it would make a nice picnic area for someone. There are those who do come to this point, eat some snacks, and then turn around. The trail switchbacks with the short U-turn as you go by Orchard Camp.
More switchbacks, more elevation, and continuing back into the canyon I finally noticed the light of the sun. I still had a lot of tree cover, but I was clearly past the elevation the clouds were covering that morning. What I had been told by a friend is that by this point of the hike you know you are very close to Manzanita Ridge when you encounter the huge boulder in the middle of the trail.
What looked to me like part of humanoid face actually took a little work to get around. You definitely want to cross over it to continue on with the trail. It is around this point that the views of the canyon start to open up and the tree cover ends.

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Youtube Version)

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Vimeo Version)

John Robinson's Orchard Camp section in Trails of the Angeles

Some old historic pictures of Orchard Camp. These are fun to look at since the area does not seem as overgrown as it does these days. It is hard to imagine sunlight hitting the area that I went to.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Up to First Water)

(GPS: N34° 10.170 W 118° 02.940)

This begins a series of blogs that I have delayed for some time. When I did this one I was trying to kill two birds with one stone. One reason was to make sure my legs were in hiking shape at the time. The second reason was that the Mt. Wilson trail, and mountain itself, has important historical significance.

One thing I want to point out from the start is that this is one of those hikes that most of the pictures and video you will see were done on the way back down. Normally, I am forced to do this because I usually start hiking early in the morning before dawn. I always try show what can be seen with the best lighting available. However, on the day I did this southern California was going through what is known as "June Gloom" even though I did not do it in June.

Basically, there was a high amount of fog on the trail that morning. I could not see very far in any direction until I passed the cloud level later. It was fun to hike through since I could not see where I was going, but it was nothing worth taking pictures of since there was nothing to show. So, the following pictures are presented in a way that you can actually see what the trail is like, from the bottom to the top, even though it does not really show you what I experienced on the way up that morning.

The gps coordinates take you to the beginning of the Mt. Wilson trail near the historic Lizzie's Trail Inn and the Don Richardson House next to it. The inn was created in 1895 to serve the needs of hikers that used the popular trail during that era. The trail, as we know it, goes back to the mid-1860's. Lizzie's Trail Inn has an interesting history that I will link to below, and it is a museum today. For my purpose, I just parked on the street in front of it and passed by the inn on the left side to begin the trail.

The beginning of the hike passes a residential area. Some slight covering of trees like this, but it does not last for long.After gaining some elevation you can see some of interesting looking houses. Like I said, during the morning I could see none of this because of the fog. This was to my advantage though because the first third of the hike is out in the open where on a hot sunny day it could make one miserable. A nice dam making sure these houses and the rest of the city do not get flooded. After switching back and forth on the trail, gaining elevation, you might be able to see the Santa Anita racetrack. It can barely be seen slightly off to the right in the background. This is the direction the trail was going. It would eventually take me more off to the right side and higher up. Again, I could not see any of this in the morning. It really was kind of spooky, but I loved doing it at the time. Some people say you should be concerned about the drop offs on the trail. Honestly, that was not much of a concern for me on this one due to my own experiences on worse mountain trails. The trail is not that wide though. There was something about this that bothered me about this I knew I might have to face on the way down, but I will mention that later. After 1.5 miles I reached this sign telling me that I was at First Water. One can descend to the right to the stream below here. In fact, just hiking to this point is a workout in itself and people do come here just for this. I bypassed this point and continued. It was around this point that two young athletes ran right by me. Many people do run up and down this trail. I was just slow and steady on this 4,600 ft. elevation hike over 7 miles.

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Youtube Version)

The Mt. Wilson Trail (Vimeo Version)

Lizzie's Trail Inn (
Lizzie's Once Entertained Hikers (San Gabriel Tribune article)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ramona Epic #13: Fiesta!

It is time for the fiesta at the rancho. Lots of singing and dancing take place. You will notice that Ramona is not present.

Most of the footage is from 2011. You can tell because the woman with the big hat that won't sit still was right in front of me. Lol! ;)

Ramona Epic #13: Fiesta! (Vimeo Version)