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George Ellery Hale

June 28, 2018

Not many of us build something that’s classified as the world’s largest. But George Ellery Hale did it four times. He led the design and construction of four different telescopes that were the biggest in the world.

Hale was born 150 years ago tomorrow in Chicago, the son of a wealthy industrialist. Hale built his first telescope at age 14. And while he was in college, he built a new instrument for studying the Sun. Later, he used that type of instrument to discover that sunspots are magnetic storms.

After college, Hale joined the staff of the University of Chicago. While there, he convinced another industrialist to fund a new observatory. Its centerpiece was a telescope with a 40-inch lens. It’s still the world’s largest refracting telescope.

The observatory was built in Wisconsin, where conditions weren’t that great for skywatching. So Hale established a new observatory in California. He built special telescopes for watching the Sun, and the world’s biggest reflector, which uses a glass mirror to gather starlight. And a few years later, he built an even bigger one — 100 inches in diameter. Edwin Hubble used that telescope to discover that the universe is expanding.

Although Hale was in poor health by then, he spearheaded a 200-inch reflector atop Palomar Mountain. It wasn’t completed until after Hale died, in 1938. But it reigned as the world’s largest telescope for decades — a final testament to George Ellery Hale.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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