Sunday, December 15, 2013

Where's There: Mount Palomar Observatory

It is said Lewis would one day work as an astronomer at this California observatory [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 120].

It’s an interesting digression into the future lives of his characters, the fact Bellairs references that Lewis will go on to have a life and further adventures long after stories about him are written.  Brad Strickland keeps Lewis interested in astronomy in later adventures, most notably The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge.  We do have to chuckle at the timing, though – the observatory was completed around the same time the events of the book.

The Palomar Observatory is an astronomical observatory located in San Diego County, California 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles. It was founded in 1948 but originally postulated as early as 1928 by noted astronomer and scholar George Ellery Hale (1868-1938) at the possible suggestion of an elf (not the fuse box dwarf but stemming from Hale’s neurological and psychological problems). Hale had founded a number of other significant locations including Yerkes Observatory (1897 in Williams Bay, Wisconsin) and Mount Wilson Observatory (1904 in Los Angeles County) and his vision for this new observatory would include a 200-inch reflector telescope has to wonder if Lewis ever saw the Yerkes Observatory before his parents died and if it had any influence on the young, former resident of Wisconsin.

Any-who - while Hale orchestrated the planning and construction of the new observatory, he did not live to see its completion. Inside, the Hale Telescope would be named in his honor and considered the most important telescope in the world from first light on January 26, 1949 until it was supplanted by an even more powerful lens in the 1990s.

Outside, Russell W. Porter was primarily responsible for the Art Deco architecture of the prominent white-domed observatory building. The dome itself is 135 feet tall and 137 feet in diameter and said to have very similar dimensions to Rome’s Pantheon.  Classy.

The word palomar is a Spanish term dating from the time of Spanish California that means pigeon house (in the same sense as henhouse). The name may be in reference to the large number of pigeons found in the area atop Palomar Mountain. Just don’t think the building’s importance is for the birds.

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