So said Southern California investor and philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith as he peered through the 60-inch telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory just after the turn of the 20th Century. That experience fostered in Griffith a desire to make science more accessible to the public.
On May 14, 1935, that desire became reality. The Griffith Observatory atop Mount Hollywood in Los Angles opened to the public to fulfill Griffith’s dream of a publicly accessible astronomical observatory available as an educational and inspirational resource for all of society.
Visiting Southern California and the southwest on business this week (see “Tallest Thermometer Temperature Record Unbroken for 95 Years”), I took a few hours off to see for myself what Griffith Observatory had to offer. This facility does not disappoint and should definitely be worked in to any SoCal travel itinerary.
As a solar energy researcher, of particular novelty and interest to me were the coelostat and solar telescopes at the observatory. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a ceolostat (Latin for ‘sky-stopper’) is a “device consisting of a flat mirror that is turned slowly by a motor to reflect the Sun continuously into a fixed telescope.” In other words, despite the sun’s heavenly transience, the Griffith ceolostat reflects light onto three instruments within the observatory from which visitors can see the live, stationary images of the sun.
The ceolostat projects into a white light viewer that allows sunspots to be seen. Additionally, there is a spectroscope (my favorite of the solar instruments) that passes sunlight though a series of optics to reveal the sun’s Fraunhoffer absorption lines, exposing which elements are present in the sun’s outer region. Finally, there is a spectrohelioscope, which restricts the view to the hydrogen alpha portion of the spectrum, making the chromosphere visible. In this region of the sun, eruptions from the sun’s surface reveal the turbulent magnetic fields surrounding the sun.
Additional information about the sun and sky are posted regularly on the Griffith’s sky information page and sky report.
The Griffith Observatory is definitely built for astronomers and not for engineers. My only disappointment was that data relevant to solar engineering is not on display to compliment the various astronomical presentations. For example, data on instantaneous insolation, the real-time coordinates of the sun in the sky, and time-integrated insolation would add an attractive engineering element to the scientific core of these demonstrations.