Over these last few days, the Internet was abuzz with news about the Station Fire threatening the world-famous Mount Wilson Observatory. In case you don’t know what the observatory is famous for, Edwin Hubble used the 100″ Hooker Telescope to deduce that the Universe is expanding. So, yes, it’s an important site that needed to be defended for as long as was physically possible. Also, an array of telecommunications towers share the Mt. Wilson summit, so there was a lot at stake.
So far so good. The Station Fire is gradually coming under control, even though it still spreads east through the San Gabriel Mountains (and I can still smell smoke through my open office window). We’re not out of the woods, but at least the observatory is safe for now and fire crews are making great headway.
But hold on. What about Stony Ridge Observatory?
Yes, there’s another observatory at stake. Not as famous as Mt. Wilson, but Stony Ridge is in jeopardy, if not more so. Stony Ridge is currently inside the Station Fire perimeter, five miles north of Mt. Wilson, and nobody knows if it’s been hit by the fires.
Stony Ridge Observatory is a single 30-inch Newtonian-Cassegrain telescope housed inside a dome. It is a site that was built and is maintained by amateur astronomers, and back in 1963, it was the 8th biggest telescope in California. Currently, the observatory is used for outreach activities and follow-up observation campaigns. It’s also accredited with a number of asteroid discoveries.
Unfortunately, Stony Ridge probably won’t see the aerial fire fighting we saw at Mt. Wilson. Ground crews have made attempts to approach the site, but access to the observatory was blocked by mountain debris on the road. In short, there is no word about the status of the observatory and there are no plans to mount a huge fire fighting effort.
When housing, communication masts and larger observatories are threatened by fire, resources are committed, but for an observatory the size of Stony Ridge, it’s the sad case of waiting for the fire to burn its course and then assess the damage after the fact.
For Stony Ridge Observatory fire updates, see the temporary fire updates page.