Southern California Desert Video Astronomers

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Road Trip to Yerkes & Palomar Observatories

The last couple of weeks were an active time for us at SCDVA.
First, came a visit to the renowned Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin and the second was a guided tour at the Palomar Observatory in the mountains near Escondido, California.

The Yerkes Observatory visit became possible because of a business related trip to the region near the observatory. Once the chance to see the observatory became a possibility, it became obvious that the efforts of our groups use of the Mallincam might interest the folks that do outreach there, at Yerkes. It was something that turned out to be a central idea that led to a demonstration of the MallinCam using the famous Boller & Chivens 24 inch f/13.5 reflector.

Richard Dreiser, the public information person at Yerkes, was the man who set up the event and with the help of Vivian Hoette and Frank Mills we spent an evening of observing a luckily clear sky through the historic telescope. The hope was to make their outreach efforts more dynamic with the big screen concept of star party presentation. They hoped it could be something that would work better for people with various disabilities. Seeing impaired and elderly folks get a much better chance to participate in astronomy events when the observing is presented this way.

The Yerkes Observatory is owned by the University of Chicago. Use of the observatory for science and research has diminished in recent times and has become a controversial issue for the university. The land around the observatory has become very valuable and pressure from developers to turn the lake front real estate into a condominium development has created an outcry from the public and fans of the historic site that houses the worlds largest refractor telescope. 

The famous Alvin Clark 40 inch refractor is still a functioning instrument and has been in use since 1897. Now, it seems like the future of the facility will be directed at education and public outreach to promote interest in astronomy and science.

Palomar's famous telescope, the Hale 200 inch reflector, was the destination for our groups next adventure. Celebrating the IYA 2009 events, the tour was arranged by the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California.  May 2nd was National Astronomy Day, so the visit to the Palomar Observatory was a wonderful way to make the event really meaningful.
We were part of a bus load of folks who joined together to visit the observatory and what a terrific time we were given.  It started with a look around the visitor center where a room full of displays recounted the historic events about the observatory and it's accomplishments. After a chance to get some souvenirs from the gift shop, it was off to the BIG dome where we had a close look at the mighty telescope.
Mike and Susan Vergara, and Scott Kardel, hosted the event as they are part of the team that does public outreach for the observatory.  The California Institute of Technology owns the Palomar Observatory and they continue to use the facility to do leading edge research with a constantly evolving range of instruments and technical upgrades to the marvelous telescopes, there.
We were then given a slide show talk about the historic and landmark events that occurred at the observatory and then we got lucky when the foggy sky cleared enough to let us do some observing through a couple of small scopes used for their outreach programs.  Since the big scopes are totally dedicated to hi-tech imaging cameras and spectroscopic use, there is no visual use of the scopes being done any longer.
We were able to share information with the Palomar crew about our efforts in amateur astronomy and they were quite interested in our outreach methods. As chance would have it, a film crew from National Geographic was filming during our tour and we were able to give them one of our cards and invite them to see what we are up to, as well. After all, we think the use of big screens and projectors can make astronomy a new adventure for exploring the night sky and we want to spread the idea about how it can benefit even the big boys of astronomy.
We want to thank all of the kind folks who made these adventures available and fun for us to enjoy. We wish them good luck and continuing success in sharing these happy events for all to take part in so we might realize our wonderful world and the wonders of the sky above us all.

Taken from the roof at Yerkes

Richard Dreiser from Yerkes
with Tom 
Note the M
allincam in the eyepiece observing Saturn

The group arriving at Palomar

Entering via the main door.
Notice the large piece of concrete in the foreground.

Looking down from the rotating floor of the dome.
Thank you National Geographic for the professional lighting.

Original control panel

Ken taking it all in.

Moon above Palomar dome

Our host, Scott Kardel standing with the 200" mirror.

Alvin Clark 40" Refractor
at Yerkes

Mallincam Video screen attached to the famous Boller & Chivens
24 inch 
f/13.5 reflector.
Saturn is the image.


This was used as the "dummy" lens when first setting up the scope in order to make sure everything was just right before putting in the real 200"

Smaller version of the 200"
as shown by
Mike & Susan Vergara

Susan Vergara & Tom

No longer using conventional eyepieces, the "Lucky Camera" works by recording the images produced by an adaptive optics front-end at high speed;
(20 frames per second or more). 
All controls, data instruments & computers are off to the side in a separate room near the telescope.

Steven at the controls of a scaled down model of the telescope, demonstration to the crowd the movement of the scope.

Rick just down from taking a peek inside.

Thanks again to all
 for your great efforts and  hard work to help make this possible for all to enjoy.