April 19, 2010
SAN DIEGO COUNTY - ...things have changed---a lot. Now there are tours that actually take you inside the venerable dome.
Here's what you can expect: The tours start off at the big back door of the dome with a brief background of the historical building, then moves inside to the ground floor. There, you are introduced to the great skeleton of the edifice, which is built to resist earthquakes and to support the hundreds of tons that the complex telescope weighs.
Then you're brought upstairs to the main observing floor. In front of you is the behemoth; the famous Hale Telescope on the largest mount you will ever see...But wait---there's more. Now the tour takes you to the outside catwalk, a viewing pleasure not for the faint of heart.
From that vantage point, you can get the full 360-degree view of the mountain and all the other telescopes on the hill. The catwalk itself, although completely safe, almost makes you feel like you are walking on air because it is made of metal mesh.
The tours run Saturdays and Sundays from April until October at 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. They're on a first-come, first-served basis and cost $8. Visit www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/tours.html