As federal money flows toward ‘glamour facilities,’ enterprising scientists are raising private funds for smaller scopes

For 30 years the big white dome in the Southern California hills was the most important observatory in the world, the home of what one astronomer calls “the grandfather of all modern reflecting telescopes.” But in 1984 light pollution from nearby Los Angeles caught up with Mt. Wilson Observatory and its famous 100-inch Hooker telescope, causing its owners, the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., to announce its imminent closing.

Yet four years later Mt. Wilson has been given new life, thanks in large part to the efforts of a maverick organization called the Mt. Wilson Institute—an ex officio alliance of astronomers, businessmen, and public servants. In an era of incessant clamor for federal money, this group receives nary a dime from astronomy’s traditional funding sources in academia and Big Government.

The Mt. Wilson Institute...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?