One trip that all our visitors wanted to take was the short drive up Palomar Mountain to see the observatory. It had been years since I was there so I was looking forward to it.
It was only an hour from our house, a nice though curvy drive climbing 5000 feet up to the observatory. Upon arriving we went immediately to the main event, the 200 inch Hale Telescope. It’s still an amazing engineering feat, even 70 years after its inception. And it’s still very, very relevant in terms of astronomy. Caltech scientists have been able to keep it working and competitive all these years by installing new detector systems at the business end of the scope and by maintaining the basic system faithfully.
In the picture below (not a great one; taken through a glass partition) you can see a person climbing around in the operator’s station right under the mirror itself.
We were lucky to be able to attend one of the observatory’s Saturday lectures while we were there. A docent spent about 45 minutes giving us the history and some inside stories about the telescope’s beginnings and its current use. We all came away with a great appreciation for the “big science” investments made decades ago and how they’re still yielding knowledge and discovery dividends.