Palomar Observatory

From Academic Kids

Palomar Observatory is a privately-owned observatory located in San Diego County, California, 90 miles (145 km) southeast of Mount Wilson Observatory, on Palomar Mountain. It is owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The observatory currently consists of four main instruments: the 200 inch (5.08 m) Hale Telescope, the 48 inch (1.22 m) Samuel Oschin Telescope, the 18 inch (457 mm) Schmidt telescope, and a 60 inch (1.52 m) reflecting telescope.

Palomar Observatory

Missing image

LocationSan Diego County, California, USA
Coordinates33 21' 21 N 116 51' 50 W
Altitude1713 m (5618 ft)
Weather(# of clear nights, humidity)
Hale Telescope200 inch (5.08 m) reflector
60 inch Telescope60 inch (1.52 m) reflector
Oschin Telescope48 inch (1.22 m) Schmidt Reflector
JPL Palomar Testbed InterferometerInterferometer
SnoopAll-Sky Camera

The Hale Telescope

This 200 inch (5.08 m) telescope is named after astronomer George Ellery Hale. It was built by a Caltech-Carnegie Institution consortium using a Pyrex blank manufactured by Corning Glass Works. The telescope (the largest in the world at that time) saw 'first light' in 1949.

The Hale Telescope is operated by a consortium of Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Cornell University. [1] (

For a history of the 200 inch (5.08 m) instrument's construction find a copy of The Perfect Machine by Ronald Florence, ISBN 0-06-018205-9.

Palomar Observatory Sky Survey

The Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS), sponsored by the National Geographic institute, was completed in 1958 (The first plates were shot in November 1948 to and the last in April 1958). This survey was performed using 14 inch² or (6 degree)² blue-sensitive (Kodak 103a-O) and red-sensitive (Kodak 103a-E) photographic plates on the 48 inch (1.22 m) Samuel Oschin Schmidt reflecting telescope. The survey covered the sky from a declination of +90 degrees (celestial north pole) to -27 degrees and all right ascensions and had a sensitivity to +22 magnitudes (about 1 million times fainter than the limit of human vision). A southern extension extending the sky coverage of the POSS to -33 degrees declination was shot in 1957 - 1958. The final POSS consisted of 937 plate pairs.

J.B. Whiteoak, an Australian radio astronomer, used the same instrument to extend this survey further south to about -45 degrees declination, using the same field centers as the corresponding northern declination zones. Unlike the POSS, the Whiteoak extension consisted only of red-sensitive (Kodak 103a-E) photographic plates.

Until the completion of the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), POSS was the most extensive wide-field sky survey ever. When completed, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey will surpass the POSS in depth, although the POSS covers almost 2.5 times as much area on the sky. POSS also exists in digitized form (i.e., the photographic plates were scanned), both in photographic form as the Digital Sky Survey (DSS) [2] ( and in catalog form as the Minnesota Automated Plate Scanner (MAPS) Catalog [3] (

Current research

One of the current ongoing research programs at Palomar is the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program.

This program makes use of the Palomar QUEST Variability survey [4] ( that began in the autumn of 2001 to map a band of sky around the equator. This search switched to a new camera installed on the 48 inch (1.22 m) Samuel Oschin Schmidt Telescope at Palomar in summer of 2003 and the results are used by several projects, including the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking project. Another program that uses the QUEST results discovered 90377 Sedna on November 14, 2003, and around 40 Kuiper belt objects. Other programs that share the camera are Shri Kulkarni's search for gamma-ray bursts (this takes advantage of the automated telescope's ability to react as soon as a burst is seen and take a series of snapshots of the fading burst), Richard Ellis' search for supernovae to test whether the universe's expansion is accelerating or not, and S. George Djorgovski's quasar search.

The camera itself is a mosaic of 112 CCDs covering the whole (4 degree by 4 degree) field of view of the Schmidt telescope, the largest CCD mosaic used in an astronomical camera at the time.

External links


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