Lost amid the packings and re-packings of a life was a picture that I drew in the third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Bacon (seriously), had asked us to draw ourselves as adults in the profession that we most wanted to be.
I drew myself tall and lanky, with long red hair, and glasses (2-for-4 overall, I suppose) standing in the large workplace that I foresaw myself in. Behind me was a massive telescope, tilted up and aimed at the night sky through a vertical slit in a mammoth dome.
I wanted to be an astronomer.
Well, I got the being-a-scientist part science right, but it turns out that my days are spent thinking about the interaction of molecules and not the expanses of galaxies.
So on the day after Thanksgiving, we were looking for something to do that didn’t involve going shopping and so decided to make the drive up to the Mount Palomar Observatory, which is in northern San Diego County.
It’s a pretty drive up into the rolling hills and low mountains of the Palomar range. Each successive road gets a little narrower, a little curvier and a lot steeper.
The Observatory sits atop Mt. Palomar (duh) at ~6000 ft elevation. One thing I didn’t recognize is that Palomar is a very active observatory, still making observations on every clear night. The giant Hale telescope, which you can see (but not view through) was the largest telescope in the world until the early 1990s. It took 20 years to build, starting in 1928. Pretty cool.
When I first saw it, I realized that it looked just like the one that I had drawn back in the third grade. That’s pretty wild. I mean, I’m sure that I’d seen it in a book from the library, but it was an odd feeling of deja vu.
The information center/museum has some history of the telescope and many of the important discoveries it has contributed to – including the discovery of nebula that all Golden State residents should be aware of.
All in all, it was a great visit and a good way to spend a half-day. The Observatory closes to the public around 3 pm during Standard time and I had to think of the lucky folks that get to come there and work in the night.
And it made me wonder what those astronomers drew themselves as in third grade.