Tag Archives: lick observatory

The Old 36 Inch Refractor

AU0E3395-Pano-Edit.jpgIn the days before reflecting telescopes, refractors were used. In order to see further and further they got larger and larger. This meant very long telescopes and making these was technically very difficult. The reflecting scopes removed the length limitations and introduced far larger apertures in a manageable size. The old refractors were overtaken. However, they are still very usable. The 36 inch refractor at the Lick Observatory is still in regular use. They do provide tours of it for visitors.

AU0E3421.jpgThe building it is housed in is quite grand in itself. A function of its time, it has a wonderful wooden floor that is designed to be raised and lowered to allow the observer to reach the end of the telescope irrespective of what angle it is pointing at. The floor movement is current not in use and they have a sturdy ladder instead. The telescope itself is quite huge and it is amazing to think how long it has been in use.

AU0E3381.jpgThe tour was very interesting and the guide really had a passion for the scope and the work they do with it. He also allowed me to get some additional shots once everyone had moved on which was very kind.



Shane 3m Reflector

AU0E3325.jpgIf you know your optical telescopes, you know there are two main types – refractors and reflectors. Refractors use lenses to magnify the image and reflectors use mirrors. Reflectors can be much larger and gather more light so took over from the traditional telescopes. At the Lick Observatory, they have the Shane 3m Reflector. (For those who can’t use sensible units, 3 metres is 10 feet.) the building that houses the telescope has a visitors gallery. You aren’t in the room with the telescope but you can see into the space that houses it.

AU0E3337.jpgThere are a number of display screens showing how it works and how it was constructed. The clever stuff is out of sight and the main structure is all about holding the mirrors in the right place and reorienting them when required to track a subject. The structures are some substantial bits of steel and getting them up the mountain was no small feat. Nothing was in use while we were there (during the day!) so you had to imagine this large structure being moved around to track the next celestial body. Given that the building has to be at ambient temperature to avoid any heat distortion when I use, I think I was quite glad it wasn’t working since it was a cold and snowy day up on the mountain.


Lick Observatory

AU0E3511.jpgHead southeast from San Jose and the terrain heads sharply up. Mount Hamilton sits ahead of you and, if you want to take the 18 mile trip up the mountain, you will arrive at the Lick Observatory. Operated by the University of California, there are many different telescopes in use. Visitors are welcome to see two of the telescopes.

C59F7649.jpgAt one time, the top of the mountain was home to quite a community including a school for the children of the staff. However, as the observations are now able to be made and controlled remotely, there is no need for the science teams to live up on the mountain. They make trips up for initial testing of instruments when they can stay in dormitories. However, once things are up and running, they can head back down the mountain. Consequently, the residents are now the maintenance and engineering staff. This means there is a far smaller number of people up on the summit most of the time.

AU0E3505.jpgThe view from the summit is very cool. We had a bit of haze in the air which limited things a little but the view down to San Jose and off to the Bay is impressive. It would have been nice to have been up there a day or so before when the skies were very clear. However, they also get some snow up there so it might have been a trickier drive up.