"...and don't turn on your flashlights. Any questions before we go in?" asked the young female scientist.
The twelve of us stared back.
She flung open the door we faced a long set of metal steps which ascended into a retangular dark whole in the ceiling.
We heard loud screeching noises as we stepped onto the metal floor of a dark round room. The sound was coming from the ceiling which was moving to expose a large patch of darkened sky. The silhouette of a large telescope stood in the center of the room.
"All Clear!" said the young scientist.
Suddenly the telescope started moving slowly and tipping toward the west.
"Thanks, Arby!" she called. Arby, who was controlling the moving ceiling and telescope, sat behind a desk at the side of the room.
We were at Mt. Wilson Observatory standing beside a telescope built in the early 1900's (completed in 1908) and brought up to the summit piece by piece on the back of donkeys.
In the early 1900's this 60-inch telescope (the mirror is 60 inches) and it's counterpart, a 120-inch telescope, were the largest telescopes in the world. Brilliant scientists graced this mountain and their discoveries have gone down in history as revolutionizing astronomy. To read about the discoveries click here
One can see Los Angeles from the top of this mountain.
Okay, back to the scene inside the dome. While the scientists were preparing the telescope for viewing, we sang happy birthday to our friend and cut the cake in the dark.
Our friend is a fantastic trumpet player, but has also worked at JPL, the leading center for robotic space exploration.
We began by viewing M3 and M13, globular star clusters. From there we went to the "cat's eye" a nebula, and also "double-double" beautiful double stars. We viewed Neptune, and the highlight of the night was Jupiter. We could see the orange striped weather patterns. Three of Jupiter's moons were visible.
We asked if we could view the moon.
"Not tonight...it's almost full...it will be too bright."
Then they changed their minds and gave us a special lens to put over the main lens so our eyes would be comfortable. They also turned up some of the "house" lights at that point. We were almost done...and this enabled us to take some pictures.
The moon is near the top of the pictures.
At times the telescope was tilted and we had to climb a ladder to look through the lens. We were told to put one foot on the telescope to brace ourselves as we looked.
The session ended at 1:00 a.m. Even with all the excitement, I was pretty sleepy...especially since we were sitting in the dark most of the time!
Mozart was wide awake and navigated the car safely down the long winding, pitch black mountain road.
This is certainly an experience I will never forget!