In one of the most spectacular rescue efforts in science, smoggy, light-polluted Los Angeles may now have the clearest view of the night sky of any location on Earth.
At a champagne brunch on Mt. Wilson--where Edwin Hubble first saw that the universe was expanding--astronomers announced this week that the World War I vintage 100-inch telescope has reclaimed its position at the forefront of astronomy.
The new technology that made the leap possible is a flexible mirror that changes shape 300 times a second to compensate for the turbulence of Earth's atmosphere. Normally, looking at a star through the Earth's atmosphere is like looking at a penny at the bottom of a pool; the image is distorted by currents.
Hooked up to sensors and computers, however, the mirror is able to compensate for the distortions of the air--in effect, taking the twinkle out of starlight. The new technology "promises to make [Mt. Wilson's] second century as productive as the first," said astronomy buff Hugh Downes, who officiated at the ceremony on Wednesday.
Best of all, Mt. Wilson director Robert Jastrow pointed out, the refurbishing was accomplished by only two full-time staff members in 18 months for less than $200,000.