People have been asking me…

June 29, 2018

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People have been asking me (well, one person has), why have you been chosen to compose a piece in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the birth of astronomer George Ellery Hale? And who was Hale?
George Hale, born in 1868, founded Kenwood, Yerkes, Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar Observatories. He also built the largest telescope in the world four times – the 40-inch refractor at Yerkes, the 60-inch and 100-inch at Mount Wilson, and the 200-inch at Mount Palomar. Among many other achievements.
(To learn more, check out the documentary film by Todd and Robin Mason.)

My family has been connected to George Hale and his legacy since 1893. 

Kenwood Observatory, built by Hale’s father for George, age 12.
In 1893, at age eleven, my grandfather Harold Delos Babcock attended the Columbian Exposition of 1893, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. There he saw the then world’s largest telescope, the 40-inch refractor, on display, built by Hale, then 25.
The Yerkes 40-inch refractor at the Chicago World’s Fair

In 1909, Harold was hired by Hale to join the staff at Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, which was founded in 1904. Harold remained on the staff for 40 years. He then continued his observations of the sun at the Hale Solar Lab, Hale’s private solar observatory in San Marino, for another 15 years. During World War One, Harold performed defense work for the National Research Council, for which Hale served as  chairman of the organizing committee and first chairman of the council itself.
My father, Horace Welcome Babcock, graduated from Caltech (founded by Hale) and earned his doctorate at UC Berkley. My parents met while Horace was working at Yerkes Observatory, the home of the 40-inch refractor Harold had first seen in 1893.

 Yerkes Observatory

Horace joined the staff of Mount Wilson in 1946. He became Director of the Carnegie Observatories in 1964 and remained so until his retirement in 1978.
The 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson
The 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson
The 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar
As early as 1903 Hale had begun to anticipate the creation of a major observatory in the Southern hemisphere. Under my father’s direction, the Carnegie Observatories established the Las Campanas Observatory in the southern  Atacama Desert of Chile in 1969.

The Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas
In 2004, at the Caltech memorial event for Horace, I met Todd and Robin Mason, who were working on their documentary of the life of George Ellery Hale, “Journey to Palomar,” eventually shown on PBS.  Todd, in addition to being a documentary filmmaker and Juilliard-educated composer, has been creating digital images of what the GMT will look like when complete in a few more years. 
Coming next to Las Campanas – the Giant Magellan Telescope

Harold gave me the Columbian half-dollar you see at the top of this post in 1961.
Bruce and Harold Babcock

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