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In the moon glow of Mt. Wilson, go find your place in the cosmos

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In the moon glow of Mt. Wilson, go find your place in the cosmos

We are standing in the very spot where mankind first kissed the cosmos.

Mario Villarroel Lander

Do I have your attention yet?

Advertisement On a summer Saturday night, Mt. Wilson beckons, open to the public and a thousand times more tempting than any sticky-floored multiplex

You want worlds far, far away? Well, come take a peek

Because when you study it a little – and I study all things just a little – you find that Mt. Wilson is the Fenway Park of 20 th century astronomy, a thrilling place where contrarians helped change the plot lines of human existence

Perched so splendidly a mile above the basin, Mt. Wilson remains L.A.’s stiff upper lip: Wistful. Resilient. Smells of pine needles (all our best places smell a little of pine…dugouts, camp sites, world-class observatories)

You just want to know what you can see up here, right? Is it an inspired place to bring a first date? Can you get a decent sandwich?

Share quote & link Star-gazers get a glimpse of the solar system through the 100-inch telescope at the Mt. Wilson Observatory. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times) You kind of want to bed down for the night here amid the oaks and the pines, as so many star-gazing geniuses have, as they studied the why’s and how’s of distant galaxies. In many ways, Mt. Wilson is their Bethlehem … a cradle of scientific oh-my-god’s

It was right here that they figured out where we are on the celestial map, first measured the Milky Way, discovered that the universe is expanding, moving away, shunning us

Naturally, you want to know more – for nearly every philosophy insists that we are at the center of things

Turns out not, and you could easily argue that this 100-inch telescope and its roster of cutting-edge astronomers were as life-altering as the Old Testament

The Elvis, the Jesus, the Galileo of this monument was a fella named George Ellery Hale, a brilliant manic-depressive who built this dome and two telescopes, then invited the world – including Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble — to come up to play

You may or may not have heard of Hale. But he was a techie rock star for the region, particularly Pasadena, turning it into a research hub. Without Hale, there would be no Caltech. Without Hale, there would be no Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Without Hale, there might not be a Pie ‘n Burger ( now do I have your attention?). I mean, talk about star power

OK, maybe that’s going a little far, but that’s what Hale did up here, he went deep. In the quiet of these pines and oaks, he re-jiggered everything we once knew about the universe

Despite its significance, Mt. Wilson was forgotten for a while, a victim of the city lights that ruined its dark-room ambience, of bigger scopes, and then of philanthropic evolution – the Carnegie Institution pulled out 30 years ago

Now, thanks mostly to donations and volunteers, this diamond on the hill is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, with public viewings through the 60- and 100-inch telescopes, an option only since 2015. The observatory also invites the public to frequent concerts and lectures, in what is becoming the second Golden Age of space travel

Advertisement Indeed, in many ways, Mt. Wilson was a stepping stone to the Apollo mission, for NASA, and today it stands as a rallying point for L.A. residents to gaze out at the moon, which if all goes well, might be our 51st state

China, Japan, Russia, India, all have shown an interest as well, and maybe a unified approach would be wise – a fruitful and diplomatic meeting of the minds. But a space race is good for everyone, yielding technological advances and benefits no STEM program can ever match

A space race is science on steroids

But you just want to know what you can see up here, right? Is it an inspired place to bring a first date? Can you get a decent sandwich?

Yes to all of that. Public viewings are plentiful. The views of the basin itself are breathtaking. To lend a little romance to the place, occasional chamber concerts take place on Sundays in the giant dome, a surprisingly acoustic hall

After all, Einstein himself once said: “I live my daydreams in music.”

Meanwhile, monthly guest speakers discuss such things as 100-yard-wide holes on the moon that might make it permanently habitable

“I think it’s a very exciting time to be a moon enthusiast,” says the night’s lecturer, Laura Kerber of JPL, who is working on a proposal to send a rover down the moon tubes at the next landing, scheduled for 2024

Stay tuned

To get a sense of this telescope, competed in 1917 and for the next 30 years the best in the world, note that it can reveal stars so faint that they are no brighter than a candle flickering 8,000 miles away

A week ago, a cross-section of 200 students, parents and space geeks lined up to stare out at just that sort of thing: NGC 6210, a violent dying star 6,500 light years away

When we were done marveling at that, we lined up at telescopes set up by volunteers from the L.A. Astronomical Society, to look at the laugh lines on the moon

“This truly is a magical place,” says Sam Hale, the grandson of George Hale and the chair of the facility’s board of trustees, as he bops around to greet visitors on this Saturday night

“I think there’s a Pavlovian twist to astronomy,” says visitor Ray Blumhorst. “With astronomy you don’t always get the reward you’re hoping to see, but if you keep at it….”

Magic, magic, magic

Location, location, location

Sure, Mt. Wilson may have been compromised by the ember-like glow of the L.A. basin, but it still benefits from the incredible weather. The air up here is so still, experts say, that it takes the trademark twinkle-twinkle out of the stars. It is as if the wrinkled atmosphere has been tamed by a giant flat iron

That’s good, you know, when you’re looking for a clear-eyed view of the primordial universe. Or when you’re trying to zoom in on the footprints to the future

Or merely find your little cubby hole in the cosmos

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ESSENTIALS Mt. Wilson Observatory is located in the San Gabriel Mountains, a 30- to 40-minute drive off the 210 freeway (take the Angeles Crest Highway exit, then head up the hill)

It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on weekends from 8:30 a.m. The grounds and museum are free. Tours are $15. Chamber concerts in the dome, requiring tickets , are held on occasional Sundays. Telescope options vary, including individual and group tours. The best deal is probably the $25 public lectures, which include a telescope session

Sandwiches and souvenirs are available at the Cosmic Café, open weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m

Parking requires a daily or annual Adventure Pass. Daily passes can be purchased for $5 at the café