After a failed attempt yesterday, I was even more determined to try to spot comet Pan-STARRS tonight when it would appear near the moon. Naturally, the morning was fogged in, and the fog bank remained on the western horizon all day. I looked on Google Earth for a nearby hill with a western view and public access, and I found Fred Hesse, Jr. Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.
I arrived just minutes before sunset, and found thirty or so people lined up along the western edge of the hill with telescopes, binoculars, and cameras on tripods. It reminded me a lot of the eclipse I watched last May (also in Palos Verdes, though at a different park).
Hesse Park has a clear view to the west and southwest, with open space below, then houses, then the tops of the clouds. (I’m not sure what’s usually visible below the cloud layer). Off to the southwest you can see the northwestern section of Catalina Island. To the north you can see Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains. Way off to the northwest you can see some of the channel islands.
I had several plans for viewing today’s solar eclipse, depending on the weather. As the hour approached and clouds loomed in the west, I decided that my best bet would be to get above the cloud cover, and drove up into the hills to Del Cerro Park at the top of the Palos Verdes peninsula.
I’m glad I did, because a lot of other people had the same idea.
Individuals, couples, families, groups of friends, groups from schools — and everyone had a different way to see the eclipse: pinhole cameras, binoculars projecting on cardboard, welding helmets, “eclipse glasses” and more. There were also people who were just out for a day at the park, and wanted to know what was going on.
If J had been a few years older it would have been a family event for us too, but at a year and a half, I don’t think I would have been able to explain anything beyond “don’t look at the sun.” A partial eclipse is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
I’d cobbled together a pinhole camera the day before from two Amazon boxes, a sheet of paper, a sheet of aluminum foil, and lots and lots of packing tape. I actually started with just one box and I decided the image wasn’t big enough, so I grafted on a second. Even then it was only about 3/8″ across, but when testing it I could see the edges of clouds drifting across the sun, so I figured it would work. It did. Continue reading →
The Station Fire burning through the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles is expected to reach the summit of Mt. Wilson sometime tonight. In all likelihood it will damage or destroy the communications towers and the observatory complex. The Mount Wilson Observatory is an active observatory, and is also of historical importance because of discoveries made there over its 105-year history. In particular: Edwin Hubble’s* observations with the 100-inch Hooker telescope (shown at right) indicated that universe is much larger than was previously thought, and that it was expanding — observations that revolutionized astronomy and led to the current Big Bang theory.
I’ve been to the observatory once, on a tour my family took on August 8, 1992. We’d just come back from a trip to Florida where we visited Disney World and Cape Canaveral during the summer I was 16. I really wish I could remember more about the trip…but I took pictures and labeled them (though not in much detail). With the observatory threatened, I thought I’d dig them out and scan them**. You can see all eight on my Mt. Wilson Observatory Tour 1992 photoset on Flickr.
The Observatory’s website is apparently hosted on the grounds, so the fact that its fire status page is still responding indicates it’s still there and has power. The latest update says that they’re setting up a backup info page, but it’s showing a 404 error right now.
*As in the Hubble Space Telescope.
**Scanning them was not a problem. Digging them out? That was a problem. I knew exactly which photo album they were in, and thought I knew where the album was. As it turned out, it wasn’t there. It was in an unopened box shoved at the very back of the long,narrow hall closet, such that I had to move 3 other boxes, several bags, and an unused CD rack just to see that it was labeled “photo albums” on top. Edit: And, oh yeah, the trail of ants along the wall, going after the long-forgotten bag of Halloween candy. The wall I kept brushing up against. How did I forget that part?
That’s the missing piece that makes the classic phrase more than a simple tautology. It’s not just that it’s in the last place you look. It’s that it’s in the last place you want to look.
And now for something completely different: Hawaiian snow. On our second-to-last day in Hawaii, we took a tour up to the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the state at 13,796 feet. And even in early April, they still had snow at the summit.
We caught a somewhat hazy view of it from the west, in the Kohala area, but our best view of the mountain actually came the day after the tour, on our drive out to Akaka Falls. We’re probably due east of the mountain here: