MWO founder George Ellery Hale atop Mt. Wilson, 1904 Huntington Library


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History of Mount Wilson Observatory
Mount Wilson Solar Observatory was founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (the word "Solar" was dropped from the name in 1919 soon after the completion of the 100-inch telescope). In that year, Hale brought the Snow Solar Telescope from Yerkes Observatory in southern Wisconsin to the sunnier and steadier skies of Mount Wilson to continue his studies of the Sun. With a small cadre of Yerkes scientists and engineers accompanying him, Hale started what would become the world’s foremost astronomical research facility.

Founding the new field of astrophysics -- referred to at the time as the "New Astronomy" -- Hale sought to understand the physical processes that took place in the Sun and other more distant stars. Hale and his colleagues developed new technologies to extract the information encoded in the light from distant astronomical objects. Combined with an earthbound laboratories where cosmic conditions could be duplicated, this small group of pioneering scientists began the long process of deciphering the light from objects that only new, powerful telescopes and instruments could detect, unlocking the secrets of life and death among the stars. Each new answer brought new questions, and each victory brought new challenges.

The scientific process of astronomy begun 100 years ago at Mount Wilson continues today around the world and in space with such instruments as the Hubble Space Telescope, named for one of Mount Wilson’s outstanding astronomers. The articles linked below describe some of the extraordinary difficulties and accomplishments of the early pioneering years of a remote and isolated mountaintop observatory. A timeline retrospective of the Observatory's first century is available here.

George Ellery Hale was a prolific writer of books and articles aimed at the educated public in whom he wanted to instill the thrill of modern astronomy. Here are a few of his articles reporting on various aspects of progress at the young Mount Wilson Observatory:

Walter S. Adams was brought to Mt. Wilson from Yerkes at the outset of George Ellery Hale's westward move. Adams subsequently succeeded Hale as MWO Director in 1923. The following are articles written by Adams that deal with Mount Wilson events and people:

Mike Simmons is a long-time Mount Wilson enthusiast and supporter and more recently a founder and president of Astronomers Without Borders. He has written numerous articles in magazines such as Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. The following are articles written for Reflections published quarterly for the Friends of Mount Wilson Observatory: