Although I’ve been past Lick Observatory I don’t know how many times, I usually just take in the views outside, if I stop at all. But it’s been on my list to go to a public viewing night, and then a few years ago I heard that some of these included music, which made me that much more interested in attending, although, as these things so often go, it took me a while to fit it in the schedule and actually make it to one. The Jasmine String Quartet was the musical group for the evening when we went.
It was awesome to see the telescopes and to get to look through them. My favorite was the original 36-inch Great Lick Refractor, built from 1880 to 1888. It was the largest telescope in the world when it was completed. Lick did not live to see the completion of the project, but wanted to be buried within it, so his remains were placed under the pier of the telescope. It was also Lick’s wishes that the Observatory be open to the public.
The dome and instrument are not just functional, but aesthetically pleasing. There’s something about that care and workmanship that really appeals to me. I forget what specific thing it pointed at when we got to look through, but the whole field of view was FILLED with stars, which was just so amazing. In addition to the large site telescopes, there were amateur astronomers set up in the parking lot with their smaller, but still powerful, equipment. Also very cool to look through.
Even if you don’t get to look through the telescopes, they are cool to see, and there’s a nice little museum and gift shop. Some tidbits from the signage:
The dome incorporates elements from a dome at Nice Observatory in France, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Lick dome was the first hot-rivet project west of the Mississippi, and even during construction was a major tourist attraction. (Despite it being a long and arduous trip – stage being the usual means of travel.)
Lick Observatory was the first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory in the world. (who knew?!)
The road was built to enable mules to haul the heavy construction materials to the summit by wagon. A century ago the road was rated one of the best in the state.