What do you do when a raging wildfire threatens to engulf your observatory? You light backfires, spray fire retardant and water bomb the slopes… but mostly you just hope for good luck.

Smoke from backfires set to consume debris that could fuel a wildfire surrounds the Mt. Wilson observatory in early September.

LA Times

Last month, the Mt. Wilson Observatory got a welcome dose of good luck when it escaped destruction by the notorious Station Fire, which burned out of control for weeks in the mountainous woodlands north of Los Angeles.
Mt. Wilson is home to the 100-inch Hooker telescope, one of the most storied instruments in the history of astronomy. It’s here that Edwin Hubble gathered the crucial evidence that allowed him to demonstrate, in 1925, that the universe is much, much bigger than previously thought.

In this episode of The Universe in Mind podcast, Harold McAllister, director of the Mt. Wilson Institute, talks about the observatory’s brush with oblivion. Marcia Bartusiak, author of The Day We Found the Universe explains how Hubble’s work on Mt. Wilson was the culmination of an amazing epoch of discovery that saw the cutting edge of observational astronomy migrate from Europe to the New World.

Ivan Semeniuk is host of the podcast The Universe in Mind and a science journalist in residence at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto.


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Colin Gowan

October 19, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I live on the edge of the bush and daily run in it and each year, on several occasions I have pointed out fire trails in need of repair or trees that have fallen over them and months pass and I report it again and discover that it has already been reported, years have now passed and I am not happy.
I am no longer a voluntary member of my local bush fire brigade, I see no reason to place myself in greater unavoidable risk, I care about my community and am happy to help but if our community leaders want to ignore an obvious problem why should I volunteer my life for their ignorance.
When I was a kid a section of the bush was control burned each year.
It would take 7 to 10 years until all areas had been control burned and then they start over again but this no longer takes place.
Leaf litter builds up over time and instead of 2 to 3 inches that gets burned every 7 to 10 years there is now 10 to 12 inches of leaf litter.
My family’s fire battle plan is now much different to when I was a kid, in the past we would have stayed to protect our house from spot fires and sheltered inside while the fire passed over and around us but now the fire would be much hotter and there is no longer major community volunteers to help out.
Yes sadly I am not the only one who has made the decision to be less active in our local bush fire brigade.
Our local council isn’t helping either with more housing approvals bunching houses closer together and much closer to the bush, heck bloody fire breaks are a thing of the past.
Sadly Australia is not the only country sticking its head in the sand with regards to protection.

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