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.