Sunday, November 08, 2009

Journey to Palomar

Busy week, but I had a little time to kill with my iPod handy, and I finally watched Journey to Palomar, a PBS science special that I bought back in September (from the iTunes store for $1.99). This is an excellent documentary about George Ellery Hale (1868-1938) and his lifelong quest to build the biggest telescopes in the world while also managing to find time to do groundbreaking work in solar astronomy and especially spectroscopy.

In persuading financial backers and managing some of the biggest scientific projects of his time, he was directly responsible for the existence of the Yerkes telescope in Wisconsin (102 cm/40 inch refractor), two telescopes at Mount Wilson, CA (the 1.5 meter/60 inch Hale Telescope and the 2.5 meter/100 inch Hooker Telescope), and the 5.08 meter/200 inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Mountain, California (completed 10 years after his death - the project was put on hold during WWII). He also helped to establish Caltech in Pasadena. He accomplished all this and more while overcoming a lifelong struggle with mental illness. I knew very little of this amazing man, and I highly recommend this 90 minute documentary. In addition to the biographical aspects, there is great information (including amazing film clips) on the design and construction of the telescopes.

1 comment:

Astroprof said...

I saw a pre-release screening of Journey to Palomar a few years ago, and I was delighted when I finally saw it again on PBS. It is, indeed, an excellent documentary!