Lick Observatory

Lick Observatory

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The Lick Observatory is an astronomical
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Astronomy, climatology/meteorology, geology, oceanography and volcanology are examples of disciplines for which observatories have been constructed...

, owned and operated by the University of California
University of California
The University of California is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-tier public higher education system, which also includes the California State University...

. It is situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton
Mount Hamilton (California)
Mount Hamilton is a mountain in California's Diablo Range, in Santa Clara County, California. Mount Hamilton, at is the tallest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley, and is the site of Lick Observatory, the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. The various summits along its...

, in the Diablo Range
Diablo Range
The Diablo Range is a mountain range in the California Coast Ranges subdivision of the Pacific Coast Ranges. It is located in the eastern San Francisco Bay area south to the Salinas Valley area of northern California, the United States.-Geography:...

 just east of San Jose, California
San Jose, California
San Jose is the third-largest city in California, the tenth-largest in the U.S., and the county seat of Santa Clara County which is located at the southern end of San Francisco Bay...

, USA. The observatory is managed from the University of California, Santa Cruz
University of California, Santa Cruz
The University of California, Santa Cruz, also known as UC Santa Cruz or UCSC, is a public, collegiate university; one of ten campuses in the University of California...

, where its scientific staff moved in the mid-1960s.

Early history

Lick Observatory was the world's first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory.

The observatory, in a Classical Revival style structure, was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick
James Lick
James Lick was an American carpenter, piano builder, land baron, and patron of the sciences. At the time of his death, he was the wealthiest man in California, and left the majority of his estate to social and scientific causes.-Early years:James Lick was born in Stumpstown Pennsylvania on August...

. In 1887 Lick's body was buried under the future site of the telescope, with a brass tablet bearing the inscription, "Here lies the body of James Lick".

Before construction could begin, a road to the site had to be built. All of the construction materials had to be brought to the site by horse and mule-drawn wagons, which could not negotiate a steep grade. To keep the grade below 6.5%, the road had to take a very winding and sinuous path, which the modern-day road (SR 130
California State Route 130
State Route 130 is a state highway in the U.S. state of California in Santa Clara County. The route runs between San Jose, California, and Mount Hamilton. Much of its length goes through the Diablo Range as Mount Hamilton Road where it is a narrow 2 lane highway...

) still follows. Tradition maintains that this road has exactly 365 turns. (This is approximately correct, although uncertainty as to what should count as a turn makes precise verification impossible). Even those who do not normally suffer from motion-sickness find the road challenging. The road is closed when there is snow
Snow is a form of precipitation within the Earth's atmosphere in the form of crystalline water ice, consisting of a multitude of snowflakes that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft structure, unless packed by...

 at Lick Observatory.

The 36 inch (91.44-cm) refracting telescope
Refracting telescope
A refracting or refractor telescope is a type of optical telescope that uses a lens as its objective to form an image . The refracting telescope design was originally used in spy glasses and astronomical telescopes but is also used for long focus camera lenses...

 on Mt. Hamilton was Earth's largest refracting telescope during the period from when it saw first light on January 3, 1888, until the construction of Yerkes
Yerkes Observatory
Yerkes Observatory is an astronomical observatory operated by the University of Chicago in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The observatory, which calls itself "the birthplace of modern astrophysics," was founded in 1897 by George Ellery Hale and financed by Charles T. Yerkes...

 in 1897. Warner & Swasey designed and built the telescope, with the 36-inch lens done by Alvan Clark & Sons
Alvan Clark & Sons
Alvan Clark & Sons was an American maker of optics that became famous for crafting lenses for some of the largest refracting telescopes of the 19th and early 20th centuries...

. In May, 1888, the observatory was turned over to the Regents of the University of California
Regents of the University of California
The Regents of the University of California make up the governing board of the University of California. The Board has 26 full members:* The majority are appointed by the Governor of California for 12-year terms....

, and it became the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory in the world. Edward Singleton Holden
Edward Singleton Holden
Edward Singleton Holden was an American astronomer.-Early years:He was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1846 to Jeremiah and Sarah Holden. From 1862-66, he attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he obtained a B.S. degree...

 was the first director. The location provided excellent viewing performance due to lack of ambient light and pollution; additionally, the night air at the top of Mt. Hamilton is extremely calm, and the mountain peak is normally above the level of the low cloud cover that is often seen in the San Jose area. When low cloud cover is present below the peak, light pollution is cut to almost nothing.

On May 21, 1939, during a nighttime fog that engulfed the summit, a U.S. Army Air Force Northrop A-17
Northrop A-17
The Northrop A-17, a development of the Northrop Gamma 2F was a two seat, single engine, monoplane, attack bomber built in 1935 by the Northrop Corporation for the US Army Air Corps.-Development and design:...

 two-seater attack plane crashed into the main building. Due to a scientific meeting being held elsewhere, the only staff member present was Nicholas Mayall
Nicholas Mayall
Nicholas Ulrich Mayall was an American observational astronomer. After obtaining his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, Mayall worked at the Lick Observatory, where he remained from 1934–1960, except for a brief period at MIT's Radiation Laboratory during World War II.During...

. Fortunately, nothing caught fire and the two individuals in the building were unharmed. The pilot of the plane, Lt. Richard F. Lorenz, and passenger Private W. E. Scott were killed instantly. The telephone line was broken by the crash, so no help could be called for at first. Eventually help arrived together with numerous reporters and photographers, who kept arriving almost all night long. Evidence of their numbers could be seen the next day by the litter of flash bulbs carpeting the parking lot. The press widely covered the accident and many reports emphasized the luck in not losing a large cabinet of spectrograms which was knocked over by the crash coming through an astronomer's office window. Perhaps more notable was the lack of fire nor damage to the 36 inch (0.9144 m) Crossley reflector dome.

Current state

With the growth of San Jose, and the rest of Silicon Valley, light pollution
Light pollution
Light pollution, also known as photopollution or luminous pollution, is excessive or obtrusive artificial light.The International Dark-Sky Association defines light pollution as:...

 became a problem for the observatory. In the 1970s, a site in the Santa Lucia Mountains
Santa Lucia Mountains
The Santa Lucia Mountains or Santa Lucia Range is a mountain range in coastal California, running from Monterey southeast for 105 miles to San Luis Obispo. The highest summit is Junipero Serra Peak, in Monterey County...

 at Junípero Serra Peak
Junipero Serra Peak
Junipero Serra Peak is the highest mountain in the Santa Lucia Mountains of California. It is also the highest peak in Monterey County. It is named after Franciscan Friar Junípero Serra, founder of the California Missions.- Toponymy :...

, southeast of Monterey
Monterey, California
The City of Monterey in Monterey County is located on Monterey Bay along the Pacific coast in Central California. Monterey lies at an elevation of 26 feet above sea level. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 27,810. Monterey is of historical importance because it was the capital of...

, was evaluated for possible relocation of many of the telescopes. However, funding for the move was not available, and in 1980 San Jose began a program to reduce the effects of lighting, most notably replacing all streetlamps with low pressure sodium lamps. The result is that the Mount Hamilton site remains a viable location for a major working observatory. Asteroid 6216 San Jose
6216 San Jose
6216 San Jose is a main belt asteroid. It orbits the Sun every 4.57 years.The minor planet was discovered on September 30, 1975 by S. J. Bus at the Palomar Observatory and given the provisional designation 1975 SJ. In 1998 was renamed San Jose to honor the city of San Jose, California, United...

 was named in honor of the city's efforts to reduce light pollution by the International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union
The International Astronomical Union IAU is a collection of professional astronomers, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy...


In 2006, there were 23 families in residence, plus typically between two to ten visiting astronomers from the University of California campuses, who stay in dormitories while working at the observatory. The little town of Mount Hamilton
Mount Hamilton (California)
Mount Hamilton is a mountain in California's Diablo Range, in Santa Clara County, California. Mount Hamilton, at is the tallest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley, and is the site of Lick Observatory, the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. The various summits along its...

 atop the mountain has its own police and a post office, and until recently a one-room schoolhouse.

In 2008, there were 38 people residing on the mountain; the chef and commons dinner were decommissioned earlier in the year.

Significant discoveries

The following astronomical objects were discovered at Lick Observatory:
  • Several moon
    Natural satellite
    A natural satellite or moon is a celestial body that orbits a planet or smaller body, which is called its primary. The two terms are used synonymously for non-artificial satellites of planets, of dwarf planets, and of minor planets....

    s of Jupiter
    Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

    • Amalthea
      Amalthea (moon)
      Amalthea is the third moon of Jupiter in order of distance from the planet. It was discovered on September 9, 1892, by Edward Emerson Barnard and named after Amalthea, a nymph in Greek mythology. It is also known as '....

    • Ananke
      Ananke (moon)
      Ananke is a retrograde irregular satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered by Seth Barnes Nicholson at Mount Wilson Observatory in 1951 and is named after the mythological Ananke, the personification of Necessity, and the mother of the Moirae by Zeus...

    • Elara
      Elara (moon)
      Elara is a prograde irregular satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered by Charles Dillon Perrine at Lick Observatory in 1905. It is the eighth largest moon of Jupiter and is named after the mother by Zeus of the giant Tityus....

    • Himalia
      Himalia (moon)
      Himalia is the largest irregular satellite of Jupiter, the sixth largest overall in size, and the fifth largest in mass. It was discovered by Charles Dillon Perrine at the Lick Observatory on 3 December 1904 and is named after the nymph Himalia, who bore three sons of Zeus .- Discovery...

    • Lysithea
      Lysithea (moon)
      Lysithea is a prograde irregular satellite of Jupiter. It was discovered by Seth Barnes Nicholson in 1938 at Mount Wilson Observatory and is named after the mythological Lysithea, daughter of Oceanus and one of Zeus' lovers....

    • Sinope
      Sinope (moon)
      Sinope is a retrograde irregular satellite of Jupiter discovered by Seth Barnes Nicholson at Lick Observatory in 1914, and is named after Sinope of Greek mythology....

  • Near-Earth asteroid (29075) 1950 DA
    (29075) 1950 DA
    -External links:* from JPL /...

  • Several extrasolar planet
    Extrasolar planet
    An extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is a planet outside the Solar System. A total of such planets have been identified as of . It is now known that a substantial fraction of stars have planets, including perhaps half of all Sun-like stars...

    • Quintuple planet system
      • 55 Cancri
        55 Cancri
        55 Cancri , also cataloged Rho1 Cancri or abbreviated 55 Cnc, is a binary star approximately 41 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cancer...

    • Triple planet system
      • Upsilon Andromedae
        Upsilon Andromedae
        Upsilon Andromedae is a binary star located approximately 44 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. The primary star is a yellow-white dwarf star that is somewhat younger than the Sun...

         (with Whipple Observatory)
    • Double planet systems
      • HD 38529
        HD 38529
        HD 38529 is a binary star approximately 128 light-years away in the constellation of Orion.-HD 38529 A:...

         (with Keck Observatory)
      • HD 12661
        HD 12661
        |- bgcolor="#FFFAFA"HD 12661 is a yellow star in the constellation of Aries. It has two known extrasolar planets. It is 114 light years from Earth.-Planetary system:...

         (with Keck)
      • Gliese 876
        Gliese 876
        Gliese 876 is a red dwarf star approximately 15 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Aquarius. As of 2011, it has been confirmed that four extrasolar planets orbit the star...

         (with Keck)
      • 47 Ursae Majoris
        47 Ursae Majoris
        47 Ursae Majoris is a solar analog, yellow dwarf star approximately 46 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Ursa Major. , it has been confirmed that three Jupiter-like extrasolar planets orbit the star...


equipment and locations:
  • the C. Donald Shane telescope
    C. Donald Shane telescope
    The C. Donald Shane telescope is a reflecting telescope located at the Lick Observatory in California. It was named after astronomer C. Donald Shane in 1978, who led the effort to acquire the necessary funds from the California Legislature, and who then oversaw the telescope's construction...

     3 m (120-inch) reflector
    Reflecting telescope
    A reflecting telescope is an optical telescope which uses a single or combination of curved mirrors that reflect light and form an image. The reflecting telescope was invented in the 17th century as an alternative to the refracting telescope which, at that time, was a design that suffered from...

     (Shane Dome, Tycho Brahe Peak)
  • the Hamilton spectrometer.
  • the Automated Planet Finder
    Automated Planet Finder
    The Automated Planet Finder Telescope is a fully automated 2.4-meter optical telescope under construction at Lick Observatory designed to search for extrasolar planets in the range of five to twenty times the mass of the Earth. The instrument will examine 25 stars per night. Over a decade, the...

     (2.4 meter) reflector (First light was originally scheduled for 2006, but delays in the construction of the dome have pushed this back to late 2008 at the earliest.)
  • the Anna L. Nickel
    Anna L. Nickel telescope
    The Anna L. Nickel telescope is a 1 meter reflecting telescope located at Lick Observatory in the U.S. state of California.The smaller dome on the main building at Lick had originally held the second hand 12 inch Clark refracting telescope, the first telescope to be used at Lick. In 1979 it was...

     1 m (40-inch) reflector (North (small) Dome, Main Building)
  • the Great Lick
    James Lick telescope
    The James Lick Telescope is an antique refracting 36 inch telescope built in 1889 that can still be viewed through today...

     0.9 m (36-inch) refractor (South Dome, Main Building, Observatory Peak)
  • the Crossley
    Crossley telescope
    The Crossley telescope is an reflecting telescope located at Lick Observatory in the U.S. state of California.-History:Given to the observatory in 1895 by British politician Edward Crossley, it was rebuilt from the ground up as it was on a very flimsy mounting. It is still being used today in the...

     0.9 m (36-inch) reflector (Crossley Dome, Ptolemy Peak)
  • the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope
    Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope
    The Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope is an automated telescope used in the search for supernovae.The KAIT is a computer-controlled reflecting telescope with a 76 cm mirror and a CCD camera to take pictures. It is located at the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California.KAIT can take close to...

     (KAIT) 76 cm reflector (24-inch Dome, Kepler Peak)
  • the 0.6 m (24-inch) Coudé Auxiliary Telescope
    Coude Auxiliary Telescope
    The Coudé Auxiliary Telescope is a coudé focus telescope located at the Lick Observatory near San Jose, California, south of Shane Dome, Tycho Brahe Peak....

     (Inside of Shane Dome, South wall, Tycho Brahe Peak)
  • the Tauchmann
    Tauchmann telescope
    Tauchmann telescope is a 0.5 m reflector atop the water tank at Huyghens Peak. It is part of the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.The telescope has been constructed by George Tauchmann, an amateur astronomer from Berkeley, California. In 1937 it was the biggest amateur reflecting telescope in...

     0.5 m (22-inch) reflector (Tauchmann Dome atop the water tank, Huyghens Peak)
  • the Carnegie
    Carnegie telescope
    The Carnegie telescope is a twin reflector telescope located at Lick Observatory in California, USA.The Carnegie twin refractor is located in a mid-sized dome at the observatory. Because the Carnegie is actually two telescopes, side by side on a single mount, it looks more like a large set of...

     0.5 m (20-inch) twin refractor (Double Astrograph
    An astrograph is a telescope designed for the sole purpose of astrophotography. Astrographs are usually used in wide field surveys of the night sky as well as detection of objects such as asteroids, meteors, and comets.-Design:...

     Dome, Tycho Brahe Peak)
  • CCD Comet Camera 135 mm Nikon
    , also known as just Nikon, is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, specializing in optics and imaging. Its products include cameras, binoculars, microscopes, measurement instruments, and the steppers used in the photolithography steps of semiconductor fabrication, of which...

     camera lens ("The Outhouse" Southwest of the Shane Dome, Tycho Brahe Peak)

See also

  • List of largest optical refracting telescopes
  • William Wallace Campbell
    William Wallace Campbell
    William Wallace Campbell was an American astronomer, and director of Lick Observatory from 1900 to 1930. He specialized in spectroscopy.-Biography:...

    , director of Lick Observatory, 1900-1930
  • Charles Dillon Perrine
    Charles Dillon Perrine
    Charles Dillon Perrine was an American astronomer living in Argentina.Born in Steubenville, Ohio, a son of Peter and Elizabeth McCauley Perrine, and a descendant of Daniel Perrin, "The Huguenot", he worked at Lick Observatory from 1893 to 1909 and then was director of the Argentine National...

External links