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Pilgrimage to the Great Refractor

Posted by Louis Busby 09/30/2018 11:09PM

Pilgrimage to the Great Refractor

So sad to hear now that this telescope and observatory will be closing and the history book slammed shut on one of the last great telescopes responsible for leading the United States and the University of Chicago into the twentieth century and to major discoveries and contributions in astronomy and astrophysics.


Comments:

Louis, Thank you very much for sharing your exceptional experience with the The Great Refractor of Yerkes Observatory. I was right there with you on your tour, as I have always wanted to visit the 40-inch refractor and now it would appear that I have missed my opportunity. On a similar note, I have had those private tours on the Great 36" Refractor of Lick Observatory. I would repeatedly take Bob O'Connell's observing class at College of the Redwoods in Eureka as he always took his observing classes down to Lick Observatory for observing with the 36-inch Lick refractor. After a 3-4 hour tour of observing with the Great 36-inch Refractor we would observe the rest of the night with our own telescopes on Mt. Hamilton. On several occasions Remington Stone was our tour guide for the night's observing and he was most obliging to move the giant telescope to whichever objects we would like to view. Standing on the observing floor as it moved up and down to position the tail end of the giant scope at a comfortable viewing position is a memory I will always treasure. I also have been very fortunate in getting three personal behind the scenes tours of the Hale 200-inch telescope. My first tour came about after meeting a Palomar observing assistant at my wife's 10 year high school reunion. Not having attended my wife's high school, I was incredibly fortunate in spending most of the reunion with her astronomically connected classmate. The next night we drove up to Palomar and got an amazing tour that included taking my then 3 month old daughter up the elevator the the top of the telescope for a view into the observing cage. Totally awesome! We obviously did not get to "look" through the 200-inch telescope, but we were taken down to the coude focus where the astronomers and there families viewed through the scope on Christmas nights. My second personal tour of the Hale telescope came when I was fighting a forest fire on Palomar Mountain. We were in the mop up stages of the fire and early one evening after filling our fire engine with water from the 1,000,000 gallon water tank at the observatory, I took the firefighters over to see if we could simply go into the visitor's room to view the telescope. An astronomer just happened to see us looking rather bummed that the visitor's room had just closed for the evening. He asked if we would like to see the telescope, and of course we said, "Yes!" He proceeded to take us into every room of the main observatory, included the telescope dome itself. Walking underneath that great telescope is like walking in an ancient cathedral, quiet, but with every sound magnified as if being recorded for posterity. My third look behind the scenes tour at Palomar came when my girlfriend and I were simply visiting the grounds. Again, an observing assistant had a half hour or so before his nighttime duties and took us on a tour throughout the dome and once again I was able to walk around the dome on the outside catwalk. Touring these giant monuments to human imagination and engineering have been some of my most memorable astronomical events, maybe even as good as the many amazing sights I have seen over the past 53 years of interest in astronomy. So again, thank you for sharing Yerkes Observatory with me. I now feel like I have been to all of the great classical observatories in America, except Mt. Wilson. And that one is on my to do list!
  • reconair [Louis Busby]
  • 10/11/2018 01:00PM
Jon, I'm jealous of your Palomar experiences. I last stood in the visitors gallery in 1965 while on a sixth grade camping trip. Then the Hale Telescope was the largest telescope in the world and had only been in service a mere 17 years. The telescope, the observatory and the wonderful images in the visitor's center so amazed me that it instilled such a love of astronomy that to this day it remains as strong in me as it did then. I've been to the Mt Wilson Observatory to look at the famous 100-inch Hooker telescope but have never seen the 60-inch. I lived in Burbank, California as a teen and made trips there often. I've also been to the Lowell Observatory a few times. Several other lesser observatories have also crossed my path. Now I have an observatory of my own and several wonderful telescopes I use to capture images of galaxies and nebulae. I am not an accomplished astrophotographer nor have I automated my observatory where I can sit comfortably in a warm room. I prefer to sit in the cold as the early astronomers did and manually guide my telescope. I don't believe one can actually appreciate the astronomy experience without devoting some time to its history. Thanks for the positive comment and sharing your experiences.


Louis, Thank you very much for sharing your exceptional experience with the The Great Refractor of Yerkes Observatory. I was right there with you on your tour, as I have always wanted to visit the 40-inch refractor and now it would appear that I have missed my opportunity. On a similar note, I have had those private tours on the Great 36" Refractor of Lick Observatory. I would repeatedly take Bob O'Connell's observing class at College of the Redwoods in Eureka as he always took his observing classes down to Lick Observatory for observing with the 36-inch Lick refractor. After a 3-4 hour tour of observing with the Great 36-inch Refractor we would observe the rest of the night with our own telescopes on Mt. Hamilton. On several occasions Remington Stone was our tour guide for the night's observing and he was most obliging to move the giant telescope to whichever objects we would like to view. Standing on the observing floor as it moved up and down to position the tail end of the giant scope at a comfortable viewing position is a memory I will always treasure. I also have been very fortunate in getting three personal behind the scenes tours of the Hale 200-inch telescope. My first tour came about after meeting a Palomar observing assistant at my wife's 10 year high school reunion. Not having attended my wife's high school, I was incredibly fortunate in spending most of the reunion with her astronomically connected classmate. The next night we drove up to Palomar and got an amazing tour that included taking my then 3 month old daughter up the elevator the the top of the telescope for a view into the observing cage. Totally awesome! We obviously did not get to "look" through the 200-inch telescope, but we were taken down to the coude focus where the astronomers and their families viewed through the scope on Christmas nights. My second personal tour of the Hale telescope came when I was fighting a forest fire on Palomar Mountain. We were in the mop up stages of the fire and early one evening after filling our fire engine with water from the 1,000,000 gallon water tank at the observatory, I took the firefighters over to see if we could simply go into the visitor's room to view the telescope. An astronomer just happened to see us looking rather bummed that the visitor's room had just closed for the evening. He asked if we would like to see the telescope, and of course we said, "Yes!" He proceeded to take us into every room of the main observatory, included the telescope dome itself. Walking underneath that great telescope is like walking in an ancient cathedral, quiet, but with every sound magnified as if being recorded for posterity. My third behind the scenes tour at Palomar came when my girlfriend and I were simply visiting the grounds. Again, an observing assistant had a half hour or so before his nighttime duties and took us on a tour throughout the dome and once again I was able to walk around the dome on the outside catwalk. Touring these giant monuments to human imagination and engineering have been some of my most memorable astronomical events, maybe even as good as the many amazing sights I have seen over the past 53 years of my interest in astronomy. So again, thank you for sharing Yerkes Observatory with me. I now feel like I have been to a third classical observatory in America. Only Mt. Wilson is left to visit, and that one is on my to do list!

Thanks for sharing your experience, Louis. My friend Steve Marshall and I, astronomy buddies since we were in the seventh grade, visited Yerkes Observatory on September 26 and had what may have been a "last light" look through the 40" refractor before all public tours concluded at the end of the month (depending on the weather's suitability for observations in the last few nights when tours were scheduled). We saw lovely views of Saturn and the stunningly blue and blue-green Saturn Nebula at 465x with the observatory's Explore Scientific 40mm eyepiece and my friend's University Optics 40mm Koenig, and at 370x with my 50mm Takahashi LE. It was an honor to be there, and perhaps to be one of the last people to observe with this historic telescope.
  • reconair [Louis Busby]
  • 10/16/2018 07:41PM
Albert, So very glad you had an opportunity to experience the 40-inch refractor @ Yerkes Observatory. It is really sad that so many may never have the same opportunity. FYI, I just started reading a book by Donald E. Osterbrock, 1997, Yerkes Observatory 1892 - 1950, The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution. It seems as if Yerkes Observatory was on the verge of closing sometime in the past. For us today, it has finally come to pass. Hopefully, it will again be resurrected for the public to enjoy.


  • ericspaw [eric mah]
  • 10/24/2018 08:25PM
Louis, My friend and I also made the trek from Chicago to see the scope at night and also for the day tour. It was a bucket list trip for the both of us for different personal reasons. A grand reminder of how things of the past get swallowed up by the future.

  • ericspaw [eric mah]
  • 10/24/2018 08:26PM
Louis, My friend and I also made the trek from Chicago to see the scope at night and also for the day tour. It was a bucket list trip for the both of us for different personal reasons. A grand reminder of how things of the past get swallowed up by the future.