Mt Wilson may burnAugust 31, 2009
I took these moon pictures about an hour ago. The sky over my house is covered with clouds of smoke, and when they part the moon is dim and red despite being high in the sky.
The San Gabriel Mountains that separate the LA basin from the Mojave desert are on fire. The Station Fire, which has burned more than 100,000 acres and shows up quite nicely from space (images above and below modified from Wikipedia), is approaching Mt Wilson and firefighters on the ground had been pulled out; the fire will be fought from the air from here on. I’m glad they got the firefighters out–those slopes are wicked steep, roads are few, narrow, winding, and treacherous, and I can’t see how people on the ground could do any more good. Two firefighters have already died fighting this fire, and my heart goes out to their families.
Obviously I hope the observatory doesn’t burn down. It is hard to convey how big a loss that would be for science. On the practical side, the 100-inch Hooker telescope is still one of the world’s big guns, and losing it would put a lot of researchers in the position of having hard-earned time on a nonexistent telescope.
Taking the longer view, Edwin Hubble used the Hooker telescope to demonstrate conclusively that “spiral nebulae” are other galaxies–and, therefore, that the Milky Way is just one of many “island universes” and not the whole shebang. He also discovered that other galaxies are moving away from ours, and that the farther out they are, the faster they are receding. This is the telescope with which Homo sapiens learned that the universe is expanding. We probably don’t pay as much attention to that fact as we should–and it would be a tremendous loss for future generations to lose the observatory in general, and that scope in particular.
I took the pictures with a point-and-shoot camera and binoculars, BTW. I’ll tell you all about it some time when my gut isn’t in knots.