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The Sciences

Fires reach Mt. Wilson Observatory

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitSeptember 1, 2009 10:13 PM

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[UPDATE (21:45 MT): GREAT news! It looks like the observatory is safe. The latest report is that firefighters have made it a priority to save the venerable site, and they are confident it will not get hit by the fires. Yay!]

I have just found out that the wildfires burning across southern California have reached the peak of Mt. Wilson, where one of the U.S.'s premier observatories sits. There are several live feeds; I'm watching on CBS's UStream.

[Update: I have just learned that the fire I write about in the next paragraph was a backfire, a controllable blaze set on purpose to remove flammable material that could burn out of control when the wildfire hits. So that's good; it means they are working to protect the observatory, and the danger is not as bad as I thought. Phew!]

The fire is meters from the domes as I write this, and it's easy to see one of the Georgia State University's CHARA domes in the same frame as the fires moving up the hill. Firefighters are back on the scene, but it's unclear what the outcome of this will be. Even if the flames spare the observatory, cleanup will be a mess. I imagine just cleaning the mirrors will take months and cost a fortune. At the moment, from the air, it doesn't look like the fires are all that bad, but that could be misleading. We'll see soon enough. I'll post updates here and on Twitter as I find out more.

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