Today, at 2:45 p.m. PDT (5:45 p.m. EDT or 10:45 p.m. GMT), be sure to tune into the extra special Venus transit live video feed from the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory. I will be there, co-hosting a pretty awesome live event from the historic site with Mike Simmons, President and Founder of Astronomers Without Borders. We also have a surprise, rather sci-fi announcement in store too. For a run-down of all the festivities and the live feed, take a look at the AWB transit pages.
I will be surrounded by real astronomers with huge telescopes, so there will likely be lots of opportunities to see me geek out over some awesome views of this once-in-a-lifetime event (well, two if you saw the 2004 transit… or if you’re really young and live to see the 2117 Venus transit!). I will also be taking my patented “eclipse viewing” kit — a $1 pair of eclipse glasses and my Nikon CoolPix camera — to see if I can get a very amateur photo of Venus’ silhouette!
The observatory, located approximately 5 miles north east of the larger Mt. Wilson Observatory, was built and is run by amateur astronomers. Also, the site is a lot smaller, meaning the single observatory dome couldn’t receive the same amount of fire fighting attention as the historic Mt. Wilson site. Fortunately, it would appear the 30-inch Newtonian-Cassegrain telescope is safe inside it’s domed home.
“For those of you who have expressed your support for Stony Ridge Observatory — thank you! As you can imagine, it’s been a stressful time for all of us, and we very much appreciate all the kind thoughts and expressions of support we’ve received. Although we’ve not been able to look inside the buildings yet, it appears at least from the outside that Stony Ridge has been spared damage but will require extensive cleanup. Keep checking the website every so often. More info/photos will be posted there as we get them.” —Kay Meyer, Stony Ridge Observatory webmaster
Tonight, Pam Sable, a member of the Stony Ridge Observatory, sent me a message confirming that the site was safe. However, the wildfire has left its mark.
“Our site is in what used to be, a lovely forest only 50 minutes from my home in Glendale, which itself is an area only 20 minutes from Downtown L.A. Once in the Angeles Forest, all the sights and sounds of the city are gone. The damage to the forest is very sad but at least it will return in time. Yet if Stony Ridge had been destroyed, it would have been irreplaceable by today’s costs. We are very, very fortunate.” –Pam Sable, Stony Ridge Observatory astronomer.
Indeed, the fire is still burning. Unfortunately, fire fighters are hurrying to extinguish the blaze as hot weather is forecast for the next week. There’s also the spectre of the Santa Ana winds that could cause some complications.
Update (14:07 PDT): Mount Wilson’s server has now gone offline it seems. The webpage with fire updates stopped functioning a little before 14:00 PDT and the Towercam is no longer sending images to the mirror website. The last image was taken at 13:49 PDT. Although we were warned this may happen due to power outages to the observatory, this is the first time it’s been offline since the start of the fires.
13:25 PDT: In a bad turn of events, the Station Fire reached the summit of Mount Wilson, coming within feet of the observatory buildings. It seems possible that this fire may be due to secondary effects from the Station Fire (i.e. airborne embers). Watch the unfolding events via the KTLA helicopter.
The 150ft Solar Tower and the 100″ Hooker Observatory are both under siege from the smoke and fire. Fortunately, the fires aren’t as active as they have been, possibly due to increased humidity in the region, but this is obviously a concern. However, fire crews appear to be controlling the blaze so far. According to @CalFireNews, fire crews are in the area protecting the structures:
*Station IC* There are between 5-8 Engines providing Structure protection for Mount Wilson. — CalFireNews
Update (Aug. 31st, 15:00 PDT): The situation has taken a turn for the worse it appears. Ground crews have been pulled off Mt. Wilson and the fire is approaching the observatory rapidly. The fire will now be fought from the air. The Towercam is no longer accessible (although it is probably overloaded with traffic):
Monday, 31 Aug 09, 2:46 pm PDT – CHARA Array operator PJ Goldfinger reported that at about 2:00 pm she monitored an LA County Sheriffs Department transmission advising a pullout from Red Box, the major staging area near the mountain. I just spoke with Sherry Roman, Public Affairs Officer of the Angeles National Forest. She could give no updates as to the status of the fire in the Mount Wilson vicinity except that the USFS still considers that passage of fire across Mount Wilson is imminent and will be fought aerially rather than with ground personnel. Once the fire is through the area, they can assess the damage by air after the event before they can send in ground personnel. She also confirmed what PJ’s monitoring implied, that firefighters have been removed from Red Box.
August 31st, 10:00 PDT: Well, last night was a rather dramatic night for the Mount Wilson Observatory. During the seemingly relentless charge of flames pushing dangerously close to the summit, news came in that it was very likely the Station Fire would arrive at the observatory some time last night. However, due to the brave efforts of fire crews who camped out on Mt. Wilson through the night, the observatory and telecommunication masts look like they’ve been saved, for now.
“At this point, I don’t think [the observatory] suffered any serious damage. We’ll probably get some flare-ups or threatening flame activity, but we don’t think it’s going to be a major problem,” Inspector Edward Osorio of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said this morning.
Aggressive brush clearance and fire retardant appear to have helped, slowing the advance of the flames. However, the observatory and critical communications equipment are not out of the woods quite yet. The threat of flare-ups could still pose an issue. Another cause for concern is the fact that fire crews have been ordered away from the observatory earlier this morning, possibly to relocate north of the fire, the direction it appears to be heading.
Monday, 31 Aug 09, 7:50 am PDT – At 6:25 this morning, fire crews were instructed to withdraw from Mount Wilson. Larry Webster and Dave Jurasevich left the mountain with them. I have just spoken with Larry and Dave when they reached the bottom of the Angeles Crest Hwy in La Canada, and they report minimal fire activity in the immediate vicinity of Mount Wilson. It is not clear why the withdrawal decision was made nor whether or not the fire crews will return. Those fire fighters joined other crews deployed at the Red Box turnoff to Mount Wilson, five miles from the Observatory. So, they are still within close proximity for redeployment. Thus, the good news is that the fire in the Observatory’s vicinity seems to have diminished. The bad news is that there are no fire fighters presently on the scene. —Mt. Wilson Observatory.
The Station Fire has claimed the lives of two fire fighters and caused nearly $8 million of damage. The fire is now 85,000 acres in size and continuing to spread in hot, dry conditions. Here in the San Fernando Valley, west of the Station Fire, the air is full with the smell of smoke and numerous poor air quality warnings have been issued.
August 29th: As the fires rage in Southern California, the “Station Fire” continues to burn unnervingly close to the famous Mount Wilson Observatory, about 50 miles east from my location. The above image was captured at 8:29pm (PST) tonight from the observatory’s 150-foot Solar Tower webcam (called the “Towercam”), and it’s pretty obvious how close the fire is.
“It’s a serious situation,” said Bob Shindelar, operations branch director of California Incident Management Team 5. “Is the observatory going to make it? We’re doing everything in our power. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it is impacted by fire today or tomorrow.”
At 17:42 PST, the fire was within 2 miles of the summit and closing. Fire crews have been working on removing brush from the observatory buildings, structures that cover many acres.
I was driving through Woodland Hills today, and the view from here was ominous. The smoke is thick, and a huge cumulus cloud was rising high in the atmosphere. At one point, the scene looked like a volcano from a distance.
The LA Times has released this article in the last hour. Our reports on site are not presently so dire, but the “fog of war” certainly exists in a situation like this. Every preparation is being made for this scenario, and it may indeed yet happen. I remain optimistic for now.
Lets hope the spreading fire slows before it reaches the observatory and telecommunication masts…
Thanks to Mike Brown (@plutokiller) for the link to the Towercam.