I first became aware of Mount Wilson Observatory when I was a kid growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a fourth grader, I discovered the Clarence T. Jones Observatory, just a few blocks from my home, and regularly attended the Friday evening public sessions. They soon put me to work explaining to visitors the photographic transparencies on display, and I recall images of the amazing telescopes, domes and towers at this far-distant California Observatory. Now, many years later, I find myself in the astonishing role of being responsible for the utilization and preservation of this wonderful institution.
My first real introduction to Mount Wilson occured in 1985, when my observing team at Georgia State University was among the last granted time on the 100-inch Hooker Telescope prior to the Observatory's closure by the Carnegie Institution. We stayed in the Monastery and took our meals in the dining room at the same table as had Hubble, Humason, Baade, and the other greats whose spirits still seemed to permeate the place. Following the reopening of the 100-inch in 1993, my colleagues and I were the first users at this landmark telescope, newly recommissioned through the concerted efforts of Dr. Robert Jastrow and others then leading the Mount Wilson Institute.
In 1994, Bob Jastrow convinced me to locate the CHARA Array on the mountain, and I was by then incurably hooked on this sacred place where, more than a century ago, George Ellery Hale and his small staff undertook to build in a remote wilderness what would become the world's greatest observatory.
In the late summer of 2009, the Observatory was perilously endangered by the Station Fire, the largest wildfire ever in Los Angeles County. Through the wonderful and tireless efforts of firefighters and the kind disposition of nature, the Observatory was spared of any significant damage. And yet that desparate situation highlighted for me, more than anything else could have, the fragility of this jewel in the San Gabriels.
Now in Mount Wilson's second century, and with the Station Fire behind us, we must find the means to preserve what amounts to a world science heritage site, the place where Hale's great telescopes first revealed the breathtaking scope of the Universe. I and my fellow MWI Officers and Trustees are determined to preserve Mount Wilson as a place from which modern astronomy can still be done and to provide the Observatory with new facilities, the centerpiece of which will be a modern Visitors Center, to entice visitors to take the beautiful drive up into the San Gabriels and experience first hand the Mount Wilson mystique.
Please stay tuned to our website as things develop in the coming months and years.
In the meantime, we need your support. The Mount Wilson Institute is a non-profit corporation that receives no federal or state support. The Observatory is operated with income from modest site fees paid by the institutions operating facilities there. Your tax deductible gift to our Second Century Campaign for Mount Wilson Observatory is a very important component of our goal of preserving and enhancing this treasure of American Science - the Mount Wilson Observatory.
Please join us in this great adventure.
Director & CEO, Mount Wilson Institute
Regents' Professor and CHARA Director, Georgia State University