It's a challenge to build any big research telescope. But the tales behind the 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory in California are more harrowing than most.
The telescope's mounting narrowly escaped destruction in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The mirror had to be ground to the proper shape twice, after it was scratched the first time around. And most of the construction materials for its dome and mounting were carted up the twisting mountain road by mules.
Even so, the telescope was completed in late 1908, and it took its first look at the stars 100 years ago tonight. At the time, it was the largest telescope in the world.
The telescope was the handiwork of George Ellery Hale, who masterminded four giant telescopes. Each one held the title of "world's largest" for a decade or more.
When it was finished, the 60-inch had twice the light-gathering power of any other telescope on the planet. And some of the leading astronomers of the day put it to work.
The list included Edwin Hubble, who studied the pinwheel-shaped objects known as "spiral nebulae." Using the next giant telescope, also at Mount Wilson, Hubble eventually proved that these nebulae are giant galaxies of stars far beyond our own.
The 60-inch telescope continued its research duties for decades. And although it's no longer used for research, it's still around today -- still looking at the stars a century after its first peek at the universe.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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