By Michele E. Buttelman
From sci-fi to fantasy to real life science Southern California has numerous destinations for your inner “geek” to explore. There is no more exciting way to leave your problems behind than to blast off into outer space. Visit these three historic observatories to discover the science behind the fiction and explore the real world of science in action. Spend a day exploring each of these famous and historic sites where scientific history was made. Leave the Santa Clarita Valley behind and take a day trip to explore the cosmos.
35899 Canfield Road,
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Currently closed until the snow melts, Palomar Observatory is owned and operated by Caltech. Celebrating its 75th anniversary it is home to three active research telescopes, the famous 200-inch Hale Telescope, the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope, and the 60-inch telescope.
The Hale Telescope was for decades the largest effective telescope in operation in the world. It was the largest telescope in the world from its construction in 1949 until the Soviet BTA-6 was built in 1976 and the second largest until the construction of the Keck Observatory Keck 1 in Hawaii in 1993.
The telescopes at Palomar have been responsible for increasing our knowledge of quasars, tracking asteroids and looking into deep space.
The observatory is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Exceptions are Thanksgiving, Dec.24 through Jan. 2, certain maintenance operations and for unforeseen weather emergencies.
The public areas of the Observatory include the A.W. Greenway Jr. Visitor Center and the Visitor’s Gallery inside the 200-inch Hale Telescope dome.
The center contains a gift shop and the ticket counter for docent guided tours. In 2023, the guided tours will be offered on weekends starting Saturday, June 10 until Sunday, Oct. 29 at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.
Public tour tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are sold the day of the tour. No online or advance ticket sales.
Tickets are $5 per person, $3 for children (ages 5 through 12) and seniors (age 65 and over). No children under age 5 allowed on tours.
A new observatory self-guided tour is available using visitor smartphones and tablets. QR codes around the facility allow visitors to easily access the tour.
Check the weather before traveling to Palomar Mountain, the weather can be vastly different from the SCV. There are no gas stations on Palomar Mountain. Check your fuel before driving to the observatory.
Mt. Wilson Observatory
Mt. Wilson Road
Mt. Wilson, CA 91023
In 1904, the Mount Wilson Observatory was founded. It will celebrate its 120th anniversary next year.
In its early years the observatory was used extensively to study the sun.
In 1917 the observatory installed the largest telescope in the world, the 100-inch. It went into service photographing the stars and nebulae The 100-inch was used to make many great discoveries including the knowledge that Earth resides in just one of many galaxies in an ever-expanding universe. This telescope lead directly to the current understanding of our origins, what is called “The Big Bang” model.
Mt. Wilson is home to the 100-inch, now more than 100 years old, and the 60-inch.
For an experience of a lifetime the public can reserve time to view celestial objects through Mt. Wilson’s historic 60-inch or 100-inch telescopes. These are the largest telescopes in the world available for public use.
Make reservations at www.mtwilson.edu/60-telescope or www.mtwilson.edu/100-telescope-observing.
Fees are $1,100 for a half night or $1,700 for a full night for the 60-inch telescope and $2,500 per half night and $4,000 per full night for the 100-inch telescope for a group of 20 people.
Mt Wilson is open to visitors April 2-Nov. 29 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Dec. 1-March 31 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Public tours will be offered at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays starting April 1.
There is no GPS address for the Mt. Wilson Observatory, instead view the map and directions at www.mtwilson.edu/1map.
Bring a picnic lunch to the nearby picnic area at Skyline Park near the observatory.
2800 E. Observatory Road,
Los Angeles, CA 90027
The Griffith Observatory is familiar to most SCV families. Who hasn’t taken a school field trip to this famous landmark?
Opened in 1935 the observatory was closed for four years and underwent a $96 million refurbishing from 2002 to 2006. It was reopened to the public on Nov. 3, 2006.
Visitors may look through telescopes, explore exhibits, see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and enjoy spectacular views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign.
Things to see at Griffith Observatory include:
— The gently swaying Foucault Pendulum in the W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda has long been a visitor favorite since the building opened in 1935. One of the largest such devices in the world, the fully restored pendulum is actually an elegant scientific instrument which demonstrates the Earth’s rotation.
— During the day, you can see the live image of the Sun on the solar telescope in the Ahmanson Hall of the Sky. Each evening, there are free public telescopes on the roof and lawn to observe the night sky.
— With its giant arcing sparks Griffith Observatory’s Tesla coil is one of the most memorable and iconic exhibits. Millions have seen it in operation, throwing its lightning-like discharges to the walls of its alcove.
Griffith Observatory is open Tuesday – Friday noon – 10 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Closed Mondays. Free admission, however parking around the observatory is not. Parking fees vary according to time of year.
Tickets are required to see all Planetarium shows. Tickets are $10 for adults 13-54, $8 for seniors (55+) and $6 for children 5-12.