Hale Telescope

Giant new telescopes pop up like mushrooms these days — there’s another one every year or two. And even bigger ones are on the way.

But one telescope reigned supreme for almost three decades: the 200-inch at Palomar Observatory in southern California. It was dedicated 75 years ago today. At the ceremony, the president of Caltech, which operated the telescope, announced that it was being named for a pioneering astronomer…

LEE DUBRIDGE: George Ellery Hale, who served as director of the Mount Wilson Observatory from 1904 to 1923, who originated the bold conception of the 200-inch telescope, and whose brilliant leadership made possible its design and construction.

Hale had founded Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, then moved to the clearer skies of California, where he founded Mount Wilson and built its 100-inch telescope — the largest in the world until the 200-inch came along. He also established a lab for studying the Sun.

Hale kept pushing for bigger telescopes and better instruments, and got the funding for the 200-inch in the 1930s. Development problems and World War II delayed its completion until 1948 — a decade after Hale died.

Since then, the telescope has made major contributions to every field of astronomy, from the planets of the solar system to distant galaxies and quasars. And although it’s no longer the world’s largest — it’s barely in the top 20 — it’s still busy every clear night, keeping a giant “eye” on the stars.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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