Mount Wilson Escapes Wildfire; Amateur Observatory Destroyed – Sky & Telescope

Fire rages at Mount Wilson at evening, with the town of Los Angeles seen within the distance. HPWREN / Mount Wilson ObservatoryAnother California observatory survived close to-disaster this week, as the huge Bobcat wildfire bore down on the historic Mount Wilson Observatory northeast of Los Angeles. Also in danger have been native radio and tv transmission towers, price $1 billion and situated on the 5,700-foot peak.

The Bobcat Fire is only one of a number of scorching the U.S. West Coast in 2020, leading to file destruction and turning the skies an unearthly reddish hue. The Bobcat Fire began on September sixth within the Angeles National Forest exterior of Los Angeles.

Fire rages close to Mount Wilson. The 150-foot photo voltaic tower is seen within the foreground. HPWREN / Mount Wilson ObservatoryThere have been some tense moments on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 15th, because the Bobcat Fire approached inside 500 ft of the observatory complicated. The battle was on after a 500–1,000 acre spot hearth jumped Highway 2 within the Angeles National Forest. Fire crews rallied, slicing hearth strains whereas plane flew hearth suppression sorties overhead to defend the observatory. By Tuesday evening, the worst had handed, although officers pressured that the trouble was removed from over.

“While there is much to be done in the southwest and in the northern sections of the fire, your firefighters did incredible work around Mt. Wilson today,” says the Angeles National Forest @Angeles_NF official account on Twitter.

Heroes don’t put on capes. They put on private safety tools (PPE). Firefighters from @MonroviaCA posing in entrance of the 60-inch telescope. Thank you for all you do!! #BobcatFire
— Mount Wilson Observatory (@MtWilsonObs) September 16, 2020

As of the night of September 16th, the Bobcat Fire had burned over 46,000 acres, and was at 3% containment. Evacuation orders have been additionally lifted for Arcadia and the Sierra Madre late on Wednesday night.

A smoky scene at Mount Wilson observatory this week. HPWREN / Mount Wilson ObservatoryBased in 1904 by astronomer George Ellery Hale, Mount Wilson is house to a 60-inch telescope and the 100-inch Hooker reflector. As the most important operational telescopes of the early 20th century, they have been instrumental to discoveries such because the existence of galaxies exterior our personal and the growth of the universe. During the day, photo voltaic observers at Mount Wilson have made a full disk sketch of the Sun and present sunspot exercise almost each clear day since 1917. The observatory can also be house to the CHARA interferometer array, which completed development in 2003, and has imaged stars’ surfaces in addition to the diameter of an exoplanet.

The 2020 hearth season has been an particularly extreme one, fueled by a file heatwave plus the Santa Ana and Diablo winds, and it’s miles from over: The hearth season sometimes peaks in late September by way of October. The Lick Observatory exterior of the San Francisco Bay Area narrowly escaped destruction in late August.

The Mount Wilson observatory complicated survived an identical wildfire in 2009 and upgraded its hearth suppression system afterward, together with a excessive-stress hearth hydrants and a 500,000-gallon water tank.

Tri-Valley Stargazers Observatory Destroyed

Hidden Hill Observatory because it was earlier than the fireplace. Rich CombsThe Tri-Valley Stargazers, an astronomy membership in Livermore, California, misplaced their principal observatory constructing to the identical historic Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex wildfires that got here so near Lick Observatory a number of weeks in the past.

Just a few of the membership’s founding members had leased the property within the early 1980s; by 1983, they’d constructed an observatory and donated it to the membership. Another one of many membership’s founding members constructed the observatory’s first telescope, a 17.5-inch Coulter, and its mount. Later in 1999, one other member constructed a fiberglass Home-Dome and donated it to the membership, together with a 16-inch Meade telescope in 2007.

Originally the location was named the Sky Shack, however in 1998 the membership voted to rename it the Hidden Hill Observatory, or H2O. Over its nearly 40 years of service, the Tri-Valley Stargazers and the encircling neighborhood have used the location for observing, analysis, astrophotography, and outreach occasions. Recently, the membership had completed an in depth two-yr renovation venture, together with enhancements to the constructing and tools upgrades.

Now, H2O has burned to the bottom.

The pier is the one a part of the principle observatory constructing left standing. Jannette Bennett“When fire swept through the area on August 19th and destroyed the building, it was a heartbreaking loss for the club and for everyone who looks to the night skies for inspiration,” says membership president Roland Albers.

Among the membership’s losses have been two customized-constructed telescopes, an 18-inch truss-tube Newtonian, and a 17.5-inch aluminum-tube Newtonian. The mirrors broke and aluminum melted within the warmth. Club members additionally discovered a number of eyepieces from their premium assortment melted within the wreckage. All of the electronics, photo voltaic panels, reference supplies, finders, collimation instruments, filters, and furnishings that have been within the observatory are gone.

This melted aluminum is probably going from one of many telescopes. Ross GauntItems of a secondary mirror Ross GauntClub members discovered this nearly fully melted eyepiece within the wreckage. Ross GauntThe not too long ago donated AP1200 mount is unsalvageable. All of its electronics have been burned away, and the knobs, gearbox, and axes melted within the warmth. The mirror beneath it’s fully destroyed. Ross Gaunt

Moving Forward

Despite the loss, the Tri-Valley Stargazers stay hopeful. The hearth didn’t take all the pieces, leaving the observatory’s small dome unscathed. Importantly, the landowners made it out safely, and their house escaped the blaze.

This second dome, which was nonetheless below development, managed to flee the fireplace unhurt. Ron KaneThe Tri-Valley Stargazers plan to rebuild the Hidden Hill Observatory over the following two years, with an estimated value of roughly $30,000. They plan to construct an identical-measurement constructing and outfit it with two new scopes. The membership has created a GoFundMe web page to finance the venture, and in simply 14 days, they’re lower than $6,000 from their purpose. “I am overwhelmed by the support we’ve received so far from the community and from fellow stargazers throughout the world,” Albers says. 

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