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Mount Wilson Observatory In Danger From L.A. Fire 125

Posted by timothy
from the not-the-whole-mountain-but-the-observatory dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Mount Wilson is in danger from the Station fire burning near L.A. Their servers have gone offline, but there's a temporary mirror cam. It doesn't look good. Picture twenty-four on the L.A. Times photo gallery shows the observatory from the air. If anyone has any inside news on the condition of the facility, I'm sure there are lots of people on Slashdot who would love to hear it."
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Mount Wilson Observatory In Danger From LA Fire

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  • by MidnightBrewer (97195) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:37AM (#29281857)

    I hope they can protect it! It would be a great tragedy to lose the observatory. Its beautiful architecture, unique location and accessibility to the public makes it a real treasure.

    • The slashdot post makes it sound worse than it is. It seems there are 150 firefighters on Mount Wilson the observatory as their highest priority. While mother nature is always unpredictable, we have a large group of skilled people fighting very hard to save it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dave562 (969951)
        Where did you get the information that there are still fire fighters protecting the observatory? Yesterday the LA Times was saying that the fire fighters had cleared as much fuel as they could from the observatory campus and then they left because of the danger posed by the fire. They were leaving it in the hands of fate whether or not the mostly concrete and cement buildings would withstand the fire.
    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:47AM (#29282175)
      This is what they get for discovering the Simpson Comet. This fire is required to make sure such an event never occurs again.
    • by coaxial (28297)

      And it's a great place for a rumble! [youtube.com]

      • by TRS80NT (695421)
        Sorry, Dude. That was the Griffith Observatory, further down the mountains.
        • by Ironica (124657)

          Actually, different mountains altogether. Griffith Park is on the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, while Mount Wilson is in the San Gabriel Mountains.

        • by coaxial (28297)

          I realized that right after I posted it. :(

    • omg polution and clima danger, where are All Gores when you need them?!
  • Its not too far Oregon here, hope it misses the tower...
    • I live in Southern California, slightly North of LA. Oregon is at least 700 miles from here, probably farther; not exactly what I'd call "not too far" in terms of a fire spreading from here to there.
  • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:39AM (#29281871)

    There is a link to a blog on the Webcam page:

    http://joy.chara.gsu.edu/CHARA/fire.php [gsu.edu]

    Chief Powers expressed his absolute confidence that they will save the Observatory. He said that while it may have appeared over the last day or so that the Observatory was being neglected, that they never lost sight of the importance of Mount Wilson's preservation and it is now their highest priority.

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:05AM (#29282007)

      Chief Powers expressed his absolute confidence that they will save the Observatory.

      Perhaps, but the Rapture Index [raptureready.com] is at 163, will into "fasten your seat belts" territory.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by rtyhurst (460717)

      The photo number in the header is wrong.

      It's photo 24.http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-0826-morris-fire-pictures,0,2039975.photogallery/ [latimes.com]

    • by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:37AM (#29282137)

      "He said that while it may have appeared over the last day or so that the Observatory was being neglected, that they never lost sight of the importance of Mount Wilson's preservation and it is now their highest priority."

      They need to remember that after the fire and cut a suitable firebreak around anything they want to save in future.
      There wouldn't be a fire nearby without fuel, so remove the damn fuel. Hearing of wildfire after wildfire aggravated by piss-poor management doesn't excite my sympathy. Cut the shit down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Chyeld (713439)

        Our facility is in great shape for defensibility and in the hands of a group of enthusiastic, highly experienced and absolutely devoted fire fighters. I want to acknowledge my predecessor Bob Jastrow for initiating a brush clearing program that we have continued, and I thank folks like the W. M. Keck Foundation for helping us a few years ago with funding for that activity. Chief Powers assured me that there is never a need to fully evacuate our site and it is essential that we leave knowledgeable personnel

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wgoodman (1109297)
          Not as a one time thing.. but since brush grows during spring/summer, and somehow fires all seem to happen in late summer, im sure *someone* with a lawnmower could potentially discover some sort of way to make it safer on a ~monthly basis..
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by xaxa (988988)

            Back when they still had steam trains in England, workers would cut down all the trees and bushes growing at the side of the line. If they didn't do this properly, sparks from the locomotive chimney could set the vegetation alight in dry weather.

            (They still cut the vegetation back on a line near me, which runs steam trains for tourists.)

            However, I don't know if this would scale to a California wildfire (hotter, dryer, windier, and a lot bigger and less predictable, and presumably a lot less accessible than

            • They still do this in NL even with the (diesel/)electric trains. It's steel riding on steel - like it or not, you're going to get sparks.. especially when braking.

              There are a few spots along the Dutch tracks where it isn't cut back very far, and guess what happens...
              http://www.parool.nl/parool/nl/224/BINNENLAND/article/detail/257177/2009/08/05/Trein-veroorzaakt-reeks-bermbranden.dhtml [parool.nl]

              Google Translate fails hard at Dutch, so in short: A train caused a series of brush fires alongside the tracks between the c

              • The same thing happened here in Colorado [thedenverchannel.com] last year. A train had a bearing failure and started a line of fires beside the tracks from central Denver out to the foothills. Usually it's a mechanical failure that causes it, not sparks being thrown from the wheels but a failed bearing that either heats up so much that it starts throwing off sparks itself, or it freezes the wheel and that heats up and starts throwing off sparks. Most of the reduction in fires caused by trains has been a reflection of improved
          • When you've got hot, windy conditions, you have a situation that you can't cope with by sitting on a lawnmower every so often. You can't just cut down every tree in the state. Sparks and cinders get carried a hell of a long way, as we saw here in Australia last February.

            The only way to get it under control is to watch out for points of ignition, like carelessly discarded cigarette butts or asswipes who think it's neat to start fires on purpose.
        • by Ironica (124657)

          Nice catch. My boss is conducting a site visit with folks from Keck right this second, for a funding app we have in to them. I texted her that tidbit so she can drop it into the conversation. ;-)

      • by MrNaz (730548) *

        It's easy to say after a fire "there should have been a fire break here". In reality, the hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that is nearby human activity is nearly impossible to cover, and as someone from Victoria who knew personally people who lost everything in the recent Vic bushfires, I would like to tell you and the rest of you armchair firefighters that you have no idea what you are talking about. The only way to preemptively fight fires is to ensure that everyone knows how to respond and does

    • http://www.spacedaily.com/news/aust-03a.html [spacedaily.com]

      They haven't rebuilt, and never will. Partly due to disputes with the insurer. Partly due to apathy from government. Partly for the very good technical reason that there is too much light pollution there now.

  • Don't worry (Score:5, Informative)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:42AM (#29281883) Homepage

    The observatory's going to be fine [gsu.edu] according to some of the people who work there.

    I guess there's no such thing as a 100% guarantee, but the observatory appears to be very well protected.

    • by MarkRose (820682) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:57AM (#29281955) Homepage

      Of course the observatory will be fine; they're prepared. I would be very concerned if they didn't see it coming!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by drizek (1481461)

      As someone that has experienced 3 california wild fires, I can tell you that the media exaggerates the threat to no end. I would be watching TV and they would have maps showing my entire neighborhood on fire. The reality is that when the fire gets to the houses, the firefighters are well trained and well prepared and can save the large majority of them. Nobody is going to let a multimillion dollar observatory burn down.

      • by mrsurb (1484303)
        Nobody? I have the highest respect for our Australian firefighters, but... [smh.com.au]
        • Yep the firefighters lives come before property. 150 firefighters are not going to stop a major fire if things get nasty, Black Saturday had 100,000 people fighting it and it took weeks to get it under control.
        • by ZackSchil (560462)

          Clearly the observatory was passed over due to a lack of adorable wild koalas in shock, drinking from waterbottles and letting people wrap their burned hands.

    • Re:Don't worry (Score:5, Informative)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:29AM (#29282099) Homepage Journal

      I used to live out there, and loved the drive [google.com] to the observatory [google.com]. Well, it's a treacherous and exhausting drive, but still fun especially if you have a performance car. I used to joke that the speed limits aren't there as a suggestion. They're just about as fast as you can go and survive. :) It's all fun and games until you fall off a cliff, which happens fairly regularly.

          From what I recall, they do have provisions to protect the observatory equipment inside the building (like, covering the lenses), so I'd suspect they'll be ok.

          For those who haven't been out there, which I would guess would be the majority of readers, the whole area is heavily forested in very steep mountains, so in the dry season, it's easy to presume it could be easily engulfed by the seasonal wildfires. The mountains make it damned near impossible for teams to fight the fires. The idea of "cut a fire break, and send some trucks out to fight it" are out. I have seen the reports of burning the surrounding area to prevent the hot fire from getting too close, and repeated drenching by aircraft, which is their best bet. There is no option of "it won't come here". If the fire gets close enough, it'll be a nightmare to suppress.

          Good luck guys, you'll need it. Hopefully I'll get out there again someday, and the facility will still exist.

      • THIS is why Google Street View is so cool. That really does look like a fun drive. I'd love to see a detailed explanation of how they do the surface detection, the little cursor can tell which side of the rock face you're mousing over. Some kind of shadow detection algorithm?
      • My dad went to CalTech and tuned the suspension on his car on the Mount Wilson Observatory road because it was the closest sufficiently demanding road to Cal. Old big leaf-spring-suspended car (1958 Oldsmobile) and he said the weirdest thing was because of the laxity of the leaf springs, on some of the turns the car's body would be pointing a significantly different direction than it was actually travelling, giving the illusion you were going off the road. With that said, he also claimed the speed limits
        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          My car as a nice tight suspension and performance tires. I think the biggest part for me was that there are plenty of other cars on the roads there these days. Not usually enough to cause a traffic jam (say only 25% of the time they wouldn't make way for faster vehicles), but you had to be very aware the whole time that a car may be coming straight at you because they didn't make their turn properly coming the other way. I had to nail the brakes on more than one occasion because someone el

      • by treeves (963993)
        Looks like it would be a high priority to protect the area due to all the radio and TV transmitters [google.com] up there, in addition to the observatory.
    • *Sigh*, its a telescope. Just move the tripod to somewhere safe. Jeez

    • by clockt (882520)
      I'd worry: there is a precedent of historic and useful observatories going up in smoke.

      Our Australian Mt. Stromlo Observatory got a proper roasting in the Canberra fires of 2003. I don't know if they're back up to full speed yet but it was a significant blow to Australian Astronomy.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canberra_bushfires_of_2003#Mt_Stromlo [wikipedia.org]

  • Zero Visibility (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by itsybitsy (149808) *

    I guess they have zero visibility now! It's melting, it's melting... Yikes... we'll miss them. Surely the glass mirrors could be destroyed in seconds or days without there even being direct fire burning the buildings... it's warping... it's warping... beam the telescopes up scotty... it was a far better thing that they have done... opening our eyes to the universe... to infinity and beyond...

    Maybe they'll need those adjustable glasses retrofitted after? http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/josh_silver_demos_a [ted.com]

    • Surely the glass mirrors could be destroyed in seconds or days...

      Minutes or hours, on the other hand, absolutely cannot be used to measure the destruction of the mirrors.

      • by wgoodman (1109297)
        9218 seconds?
        0.012 days?

        it's not easy to read, but is still rather exact without minutes or hours..
  • Solar observer comment posted on September 1, 2009 at 10:32 P.D.T.
    Current weather conditions: smokey

  • Wilson ? Wiiiiiiilsooooon !
    </cast away>
  • Big Bang (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:57AM (#29281957) Homepage Journal

    "I can see the Big Bang! We finally got enough power to peer back in time and....what? fire? hill? Daaaah Shit!"

  • by bughunter (10093) <bughunter&earthlink,net> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:00AM (#29281971) Journal

    I live in Altadena and have a good view of Mt Wilson. Most of the flames are on the North side of the ridge today, and are therefore beyond line of sight. Smoke completely obscures the mountains in the morning hours as well. The press has been reporting for two days now that the fire was "hours away" from the observatory, but the ground crews and helicopters have been successful in protecting it and the antenna farm.

    This afternoon, however, we were treated to the impressive sight of a Martin JRM Mars [wikipedia.org] aerial water tanker dropping 7,000 gallons of water at a pop on the Mt. Wilson blazes, and seeing the black smoke turn to white steam. Better images here (scroll down 1/3rd of the page).

    I'm confident that the firefighters will be able to prevent any serious damage to the assets on Mt. Wilson, both scientific and commercial. The worst appears to be over. [pasadenastarnews.com]

    • by bughunter (10093) <bughunter&earthlink,net> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:05AM (#29282001) Journal
      Whoops... let's try that second link again Better Images Here. [cargolaw.com]
    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:20AM (#29282061) Journal

      From the link you posted, I swear these folks in a cabin near the fire seem to be begging for a Darwin Award. I'm actually kind of pissed that the Fire Department has to waste some of their limited resources on these people:

      Some residents in the fire's path continued to ignore orders to evacuate.

      Five people at a cabin near Big Tujunga Road and Gold Creek were reportedly safe for the moment, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

      Sheriff's deputies ordered the four men and one woman to evacuate Sunday, according to Whitmore. They refused. The fire advanced on their cabin and they later asked for help, Whitmore said.

      Flames were too dangerous to allow sheriff's crews to go in to rescue the group. Luckily, flames shifted and missed the cabin. Since then the people have been visited as many as six times and refused to leave.

      They have signed releases provided to them by the sheriff's department acknowledging the danger they still face.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I bet they used to live in New Orleans.

      • by Hatta (162192) *

        I'm actually kind of pissed that the Fire Department has to waste some of their limited resources on these people

        They don't have to. As far as I'm concerned if you refuse to evacuate, you forfeit any expectation of rescue. If you're not going to listen to warnings, don't be surprised when no one listens to your cries for help.

        Of course, Katrina was a little different. Many of the poorest people in the hardest hit sections of town simply did not have the means to escape. Folks with cabins in the hills of

    • It's nice to hear from somewhere near there that they are making an effort to save it.
    • by mpapet (761907) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:59AM (#29282231) Homepage

      Parent's 100% accurate. I spent lots of time mountain biking up there many (15??) years ago and know the destination well.

      The priority goes to not only the observatory, but the *many* radio and television antennas up there that service the most densely populated parts of L.A. When we used to stop there before descending on some beautiful single track, the grounds were very well kept. Hopefully that hasn't changed too much.

      The steepness of the San Gabriel mountains along the south-facing sides just cannot be described. There's just no way to reasonably manage the fuel loads beyond a small perimeter around the top of Mt. Wilson. Taxpayers are in no mood to fund that sort of effort.

      Hopefully, they've been managing the area as well as I remember.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by niktemadur (793971)

        Taxpayers are in no mood to fund that sort of effort.

        Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm under the impression that both the police and fire departments have had layoffs as part of the state's budget cuts, in an attempt to keep the government quasi-solvent during its' current financial crisis.

        In "The Trap" (or was is "The Century Of Self"?) BBC documentarian Adam Curtis mentions the phenomenon of John Q. Citizen groaning about taxes, electing a man like Reagan as president, then a couple of years later groaning abo

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:04AM (#29281991) Journal

    The LA Times has been maintaining a Google Map showing the fire perimeter, location of landmarks like Mt. Wilson (it's the volcano shape on the lower-right side of the fire perimeter), and the direction the fire's been spreading. It's the best way I've found to quickly get an idea of what's going on:

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&gl=us&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=117631292961056724014.0004720e21d9cded17ce4 [google.com]

    I've been living in Pasadena for a while, and this has been quite an interesting experience. My brother just moved out here from Florida, and he arrived at our house the other night telling me how huge the fires on the mountain looked. I thought to myself, "Oh, he's just impressed because he's never seen this sort of thing before" -- I've seen wildfires on the mountains north of here in the past, and even if they cover a huge amount of area they still look fairly small from ~13 miles away. I then walked to the middle of our street where I could get a view of the mountains, and then exclaimed, "Holy crap, the mountain's on fire!" That was shit was insane.

    Friends of mine have had to evacuate already, the air perpetually smells like smoke, and a lot of people are wearing breathing masks. This is crazy. I really hope the historic Mt. Wilson observatory can be saved, and that the loss of life/property can be minimized.

    If you haven't seen it yet, I'd suggest the wikipedia article for the fire, which has things like satellite photos of the fire and more information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_2009_California_wildfires [wikipedia.org]

    • by Plekto (1018050)

      To get an idea of how big this is, it's larger than the size of San Diego and the surrounding metro area. It's close to the size of Charlotte, Richmond, and Columbus(for a size comparison). It looks like something out of a movie with some giant volcano or alien attacking. And it's likely to keep burning at this rate for another week or two, because there's just no way to stop it in these mountains as they are jagged and full of trees and brush that hasn't burned in, well, in some cases, over a hundred y

    • Friends of mine have had to evacuate already,

      Same here. Karen Anderson, Poul Anderson's widow, has had to evacuate to Burbank, but is OK.

      One of the reasons the Station Fire is so bad is that there's not been a significant fire in that area in at least 60 years. Another is that the Fire Marshall told the local government to do some brush clearance there, and the response was, "Whatever."

      And last, to put this in perspective for all of you slashdotters who aren't familiar with the LArea, the area burnt

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        by Omestes (471991)

        Not to sound callus, but doesn't this happen every year around there?

        I don't have much sympathy if you answer "yes", since its a normal occurrence, that for some reason people are shocked by yearly. Just like I felt a very bare minimum of sympathy for people after Katrina, or every time the Mississippi floods, or those morons who build houses on sandy cliffs in California, who then bitch about erosion, or all the morons here in AZ that will be washed away the next "100 year flood" when their houses in riv

        • Not to sound callus, but doesn't this happen every year around there?

          Yes and no. Yes, there are fires every year, some of them bad, some minor. This one is bad for two reasons: first, there's not been a serious fire in that area for about sixty years, so there's quite a bit of fuel. Second, the local government was told to clear out the dead brush but didn't bother.

          LA is in the DESERT, which is generally where wild fires happen, but never seems to realize this simple fact.

          Not quite; it's semi-desert

          • by Omestes (471991)

            Ah... thanks for the clarification. I'm always shocked at how shocked people are over wildfires, and here (AZ) how little precautions people generally take to avoid property damage from them.

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          I think the fire season in SoCal is generally a bit later in the year so as bad as it is now it has potential to get worse once the Santa Ana winds start kicking in.

          • Here in the LArea, "fire season" is defined as "no significant rain for sixty days," and can come at any time of year. It's not unusual for fire season to transform into flood season in less than 48 hours.
  • Sigh (Score:3, Funny)

    by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:06AM (#29282009)

    I thought they'd see it coming.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    KPCC (a local NPR affiliate) had a piece on Mount Wilson yesterday. A point that was brought up by one of their experts is that they were more likely to lose electricity and/or T1 lines than suffer serious structural damage. Normally backup power systems would make electricity loss minor, but the air filters for them are not designed to cope with the extreme smoke.

    This combined with how much work has gone into preserving the area makes me cautiously optimistic that the damage won't be too severe. We'll k

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @02:34AM (#29282123)

    About 34 hours before the cam went offline, I decided to start grabbing the images for a time lapse in case it did go dead. I put it here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-H6awKq9AA

  • From what I've heard, the firefighters have been preparing for quite some time making fire breaks and other preparations. There are also a lot of firefighters there, as it is a top priority. The only way that I can see it going down is if the winds pick up. If they got going fast enough, the wind would blow super hot embers over the fire breaks and over run the firefighters. Strong winds have been known to throw embers well over a mile, so if they did pick up, it wouldn't be that hard for one to land on the
    • by cprocjr (1237004)
      To be clear, I am thinking very negatively here ^ and this probably won't happen. The firefighters are super prepared, so there would have to be some uber winds to make this happen. And from what I can tell, the winds aren't that strong. But it is in the realm of possibility.
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      fire breaks

      As I understand it, a fire break is basically cutting down vegetation and other flammable stuff so the flames can't spread beyond that fire break.

      If the observatory is this important, why haven't they done something like pave a 50m^2 circle around the thing so there's nothing combustable nearby? I'd rather the grounds look a bit ugly than the whole damn thing burn down.

      (A tasteful layer of gravel with some spots of trees spread far enough apart would look nice and not be a huge deadly fire trap, IMO.)

      • by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @03:23AM (#29282345) Homepage
        In case you haven't noticed, the observatory is at the top of a steep, rugged mountain. Not only would what you suggest be very difficult, it would be useless. You see, fires move up hills very easily, because heat rises. And, of course, burning embers have been known to jump much larger gaps than a mere 50 meters, making the "firebreak" useless.
      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        They have actually done something similar to what you are suggesting.

        One of the issues with the "all fire is bad" theory is that quite a bit of dead plant material builds up (read fuel) so when a fire does occur it gets very hot very fast and spreads very rapidly. Many trees survive ground fires quite well. In fact, the Pondarosa pine requires fire to open its cones and release seeds. To counteract this a program of brush removal must be done to decrease the fuel buildup near critical areas. They have been

      • If the observatory is this important, why haven't they done something like pave a 50m^2 circle around the thing so there's nothing combustable nearby?

        Maybe because a 50m^2 circle has a radius of only 4m (12ft). I don't know how big the observatory is, but I don't think it would fit inside that space... And even if it did, I don't think 4m is enough distance from a raging inferno to save anything. But maybe you were saying that the the paved area would be a path along the circumference of a much larger circl

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          Durr, I was tired when I wrote this. -.-

          I meant a 50m perimeter around the outside of the observatory.

  • Anyone who was in Canberra around 2003 is going to find this spookily familiar. The Mount Stromlo Observatory was pretty much destroyed by a bush fire in that year. It was especially sad because it could have been saved except that the firefighters were focused on Canberra suburbs and towns like Tharwa. Also, a CCD they were building for an international telescope got left behind in the panic. Stromlo was historically important but past its best as an observational sight by that time.
    • by w3woody (44457) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @03:14AM (#29282303) Homepage

      I doubt it.

      Mount Wilson doesn't just hold the observatory but also transmission towers for all of the major broadcast TV stations in Los Angeles, as well as a majority of the radio stations, along with transmission towers for a large percentage of emergency responder communications and commercial transmission, such as trucking logistics. Mount Wilson is a major asset, and the fire crews have been preparing the area for several days in order to save the area.

      Nothing in life is guaranteed, but in the case of Mount Wilson, it's clear they've been concentrating as much effort saving the complex as they have in making sure the fires don't reach the residential communities in La Canada/Flintridge and La Crescenta.

    • "saved except that the firefighters were focused on Canberra suburbs and towns like Tharwa"

      I hate to break the news to you but I suspect that for 99.999% of the population saving their homes is a bit more important than saving a completely non-essential government funded facility. Thats not to say what happened to the scope wasn't sad , but the emergency guys got their priorities spot on.

  • Astronomer Mike Brown is tweeting his observations of the fire (from the "9th floor of Caltech Lib w/AC and comfy chair") on a very regular basis during daytime hours, in case anyone wants an eyewitness account from fairly close by. Just follow @plutokiller for his updates.

  • How is an observatory this close to major population centers not horribly affected by light pollution?

    • It wasn't close to major population centers when it was built.
      • It wasn't close to major population centers when it was built.

        This. Also, not all observing is in the visual bands; and of that which is, not all of it is ruined by the light pollution (there's still some observing that's possible, light pollution and all). And while the light pollution is a problem, there's comparatively little issue with seeing [wikipedia.org] because of the inversion layer over LA, which is a really good thing.

  • by karikas (785024) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @05:28AM (#29282861) Homepage

    My brother-in-law used to be the maintainer for the telescopes up there several years ago, and is up there right now with the firefighting crews (has been for a few days now). The mountain has been in danger several times but firefighters are there in full force (well, 150 is the number I hear). From his perspective I've been getting mixed information - a lot of the news has come in via what people up there see, and what they see isn't always what's really happening (we heard an entire Christian camp up there was completely burned down, but it's actually just fine!).

    A lot of the media here is hyping up the 20+ communications towers at the top of the mountain being in danger, and just started talking about the observatory recently (running out of things to talk about after days and days of coverage, I guess). It is a critical communications point, but so far between the flame retardant, back burn (?) fires started now to prevent areas from burning in the immediate future, actual firefighters and planes/helicopters dropping water/retardant, it's looking really good. The winds have died down as well which is helping quite a bit. I'm currently in Palmdale which is a bit north, and the other day it was "snowing" ashes!

    One guy close to the action on the news today downgraded the fire from "angry" to "cranky" - good to hear for all of us still riding this out.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      (we heard an entire Christian camp up there was completely burned down, but it's actually just fine!).

      Shame, that would have made my day.

  • I know scrub fires have always happened in California , but is this year particularly bad or is the media just focusing on it because it happens to be threatening LA suburbs for once instead of a few hick towns 50 miles from nowhere?

    Sorry , thats not meant to be patronising , but thats the way I think the media see it usually (not me personally).

    • The area that has been burning has not had a major fire in something like 60 years, so there is lots of fuel. But, what makes this fire unusual is that there is no Santa Ana wind to make it bigger. This fire is doing it all on its own.
    • Its because they can see it out their backdoor
      Alaska had 2 600,000 acre fires this year, but because no structures where threatened and it was a hassle to see them, no media reports were made.

      2 years ago, I spent 30 days defending homes on a 300,000 acre fire in Idaho. Again, it was extremely remote, no homes were lost, no one died, the homes were scattered widely and had low valuations, so no real media stories.
  • Been in CA for a year now, and after a few months here had a chance to climb the 'hill' (1500') behind my house and see a relatively large fire that was about 50 miles away. Although I couldn't see the flames because they were on the other side of the mountains from where I was, the smoke clouds... wow. Absolutely stunning, if you didn't know any better you would swear that a good old fashioned A-bomb had gone off. That sick pinkish hue and the mushroom shape were really creepy to look at.
  • I just watched the Macgyver pilot with my kids -- I'd never seen the show before because I didn't have a TV when it was on. I was surprised to see that Macgyver apparently lived in the Griffith Observatory building. Maybe he haunts it like the Phantom of the Opera.

    • by Ironica (124657)

      And what does that have to do with the completely different Observatory at Mt. Wilson?

      The Griffith Observatory was threatened in the 2007 fire season... two years ago.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Macgyver's kids started the fire using just glass marbles and Pokemon cards.

  • KPCC has at least daily interviews about the status and expectations of the fire with the observatory director and the interviews may be available on line.

  • Its actually just smoke, but interesting non the less.

    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=40011 [nasa.gov]

    The LA times photos of burnt/melted cars was interesting as well (picture 25).

  • Everyone seems to be aware of the historic Mount Wilson observatory, but there is also the CHARA array on Mount Wilson. It has 6 ~1m telescopes that are linked together as an interferometer studying evolved stars, binaries, and young stars in the near-infrared at extremely high resolution. A colleague of mine just shipped an instrument to the observatory that was been under construction for the past 3 years. So it's not just history and communications towers, it's also a cutting edge scientific facility. I

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