Monday, February 11, 2013

The Griffith Observatory - 10 January 2013

Griffith Park is more than 4200 acre of urban wilderness, relatively smack dab in the middle of our sprawling megalopolis.  Spread among the hills (elevations up to 1700 feet) and dales (a mere 384) are miles and miles of hiking trails, an open air theatre, a golf course, carousel, pony rides, bird sanctuary, picnic areas, horseback riding, and much more.  Plant life runs the gamut from spare coastal to lush vegetation, and the natural denizens include deer, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, lizards, amphibians, fish, and birds.

The crowning jewel is the Griffith Observatory, completed in 1935.  The domes on either side of the roof house telescopes which look out to the stars and beyond.  Underneath the center dome is the 300-seat planetarium, with live-narrated “shows” about the stars and beyond.

The observatory was closed to the public for four years (2002-2006) for an extensive renovation which, among other changes, added an entirely new level below ground allowing for a great deal more exhibit space.  One thing that didn’t change is the the entrance area.  When you first walk in you see a circular wall, and lots of people looking over it.  What they’re watching is a brass ball that hangs at the end of a cable suspended from the ceiling high above down to the area below the floor within that walled circle, swinging slowly back and forth, periodically knocking down small pegs at one side.

This is a Foucault pendulum, and demonstrates the rotation of the earth.  The pendulum is attached to a bearing in the ceiling which remains stationary as the earth rotates; the knocking down of the pegs is proof of that rotation.

Above and around the pendulum in this rotunda are murals depicting classical celestial mythology (the ceiling) and the “Advancement of Science” on the walls.

The exhibits are fascinating, and many are interactive, but they can be hard to photograph.  Among those we managed to get is this real-time live view of the sun (the dark areas are sun spots):

Here Coccinelle poses in front of a large globe of the moon, which rotates and is lit as if by the sun exactly like the real thing – and the little glass box she’s sitting on actually contains a bit of the real thing: a rock brought back by one of the Apollo crews:

Among the new galleries in the section downstairs we ran into a famous scientific figure:

Coccinelle and Albert Einstein

Many people go to the observatory more for what can be seen outside.  The building itself is beautiful…

…and it’s located high on a hill with a clear view of perhaps 280 degrees from the mountains to the northeast, south to downtown, west to the ocean and a little north again as the coast curves west:

You can go on the rooftop as well, where one of the telescopes can be viewed (but not easily photographed) through a glass wall:

The roof of the building as well as the telescope and planetarium domes are all covered with copper.  During the recent renovation they were all stripped of the gorgeous patina they’d acquired over the decades, and I think the domes were sealed to keep it from occurring again any time soon, but some of the roof detail is starting to green up nicely:

Almost time to head home, we gaze from the rooftop to the setting sun (the tall buildings are the office towers of Century City, Beverly Hills, and Westwood):

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