04 August, 2012

Day 30, 399km: Out of tune

Friday, August 3rd was one of these days were nothing goes according to plan. I didn't have any major issues per se, rather a series of minor drawbacks that made it a long day. Luckily ending on a great note.

The night before while dining there was a passionate discussion between Samantha and Nabil on which of the Getty Museum and the Getty Villa were the "best" museum, whatever best means. Being a foreign observer and therefore absolutely partial (?) I decided to go ahead and see both.

The Getty Villa's exhibits gallery
So the visit of the Getty Villa was very short. I was there around 8am and kind of expected it to be closed to be honest, but still wanted to give it a try. So the exhibits I've seen were very limited. An incredible metal door from the 21st century, with a remarkable brutalist style. A splendid gate pillar made of sandstones (?) exquisitely cemented together so as to form a massive allegory of men's virility.
Fine works pictured in the photo above.

My visit quickly completed I headed to the Getty museum, only to be greeted by a guard informing me the museum would open 90 minutes later. The guard being at the entrance of the parking lot, I didn't even get the chance to see the museum itself. Therefore I feel comfortable declaring that the Getty Villa is far superior to the Getty Museum, for people who are into visiting museums outside their opening hours.

As close as I got to the sign
From there I headed to Griffith Park, which offers nice views of the city PLUS an observatory. You've probably guessed it, the observatory was closed (I was there at 10am, it opens at 12pm on weekdays).

It's been a while I didn't use dermandar.com
The observatory itself, Griffith Observatory
So at that point it was already a 3-0 (Home: LA Stuff to see, Visitors: Guillaume) and we didn't even reach half time as it was just 11am. Though way to start the day. But as they say, when the going gets though, the though get going.
Mount Wilson's 60inches telescope observatory
 Next, Mount Wilson Observatory! Guess what? It was opened! (Apart from a small section being renovated) The road to go there was great too. Did it with the Cinematic Orchestra playing (Aline, I now have earphones!), helped to feel good after that lousy morning.
The 60inches telescope saw its "first light" in 1908 and was at the time the largest in the world. Now they are 10 times bigger. Among many things, this telescope was instrumental (haha...) to give astronomers a way to evaluate stellar distances.

"In later years, when the 60-in. reflecting telescope was in operation at Mount Wilson, the spectra of stars were examined in detail with a view to applying the results found in sunspots. Many stars have spectra closely resembling that of the Sun, and many others that of sunspots. In general the agreement was found to be close, but as more and more stars were examined some anomalies were discovered. A few spectral lines seemed to be abnormally strong or weak in spectra which otherwise were nearly identical. These differences proved to be associated with the intrinsic luminosities of the stars, or the total amount of light they emit. The luminosity of a star may be readily calculated from its apparent brightness, if its distance is known, merely by applying the inverse-square law of distance. At the time of this investigation relatively few accurate determinations of stellar distances were known. Enough were available, however, to establish a satisfactory correlation between the intensities of the anomalous lines in the spectra and the luminosities of the stars observed. Once such a correlation was established the process could be reversed, and the previously unknown distance of a star could be calculated from its apparent brightness and luminosity.
The final result of this application of the sunspot investigation was the discovery of a new method for determining the distances of stars, and for classifying them into groups according to luminosity and possible order of evolution. It forms an interesting illustration of the ramifications of researches in physical science and of the unforeseen consequences which may follow them."
http://www.chara.gsu.edu/CHARA/MWO/his/art/g2a1.php

Mount Wilson 100inch telescope
This other and bigger telescope is famous for having been used by E. Hubble who co-discovered the expansion of the universe. I say "co" as in science, there is rarely a real "eureka" moment but rather a series of publications, observations and calculations that all parties involved  piece together at some point.
Anyway, the thing is actually huge. The mirror is 2.5m in diameter, so the mount is probably close to 10m tall. I wonder what the 10m telescopes will look like, they must be real beasts. Hope I'll get to go in their domes.
Many other "big names" used the facility, Michelson to measure the size of stars (via interferometry, see below) and Russel to develop his star classification.
This picture of its construction is really cool.

Zoom in, hope the text is readable
So the basic idea of interferometry is to get more information on a signal by combining it with itself, or another signal. That other signal can be from the same source or from a carefully chosen reference source depending on the measurement intended.

These pipes carry ... light, in a vacuum
 There is an array of telescopes called CHARA  on top of Mt. Wilson, which consists of 6 * 1m telescopes that are combined optically, ie the 6 lights sources of the different telescopes are physically combined. This is opposed to telescope arrays that digitalize the light first and where the interferometer is actually a computer.
Here, it's a series of mirrors housed in a 100m building, that allowed us to get the first picture of the surface of another star the same size as the sun back in 2007. The array is still in active use for science observations.

Back to concrete realities
So after this very cool visit I had two more things to see.

First, Thai This, a restaurant in Dana Point  belonging to family of Tik, who I spent the Songkran of 2007 with in Lampang (with Nokkaew from True!) I thought it would be cool to give them a surprise visit "Hi I'm a friend of your sister". Well. They were closed. It wasn't my day!

Palomar observatory? Closed too
 And lastly I made it too late to Mt. Palomar's observatory so I didn't get to see the 5m telescope they have there. It's one the last telescopes whose main mirror (the 5m beast) is made of a single piece of glass. Larger telescopes' mirrors are now made of separate sections joined together.

Coming down Mt. Palomar
So after this slightly disappointing day I was back on my way south, with the intention of camping somewhere near San Diego. I reached the campsite after sunset around 8pm and setup the camp in pitch dark once more. Getting kind of used to it ...

And there I had the very good surprise to meet Mike and his family. They live in Pasadena and were camping here for the week. Mike invited me to share the great Mexican dinner that they prepared and it turned what should have been a can of Chili warmed on my stove into a great evening complete with beer, marshmallows on the fire and biking stories with the family. Thanks to all you guys, you really made my day! :)

I was camping around 20km north of the border so the next destination was obviously Mexico!

Cheers,
Guillaume

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