Date: May 15, 2010

Title: Griffith Birthday


Podcaster: Carolyn Collins Petersen

Organization: Loch Ness Productions –
Music by Geodesium –
Music: Halley Comet Rag, composed by Harry Lincoln and performed by Geodesium –

Description: Carolyn Collins Petersen, TheSpacewriter, talks about the 75th birthday of the venerable Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA.

Bio: Carolyn Collins Petersen is a science writer and show producer, as well as vice-president of Loch Ness Productions, ( a company that creates astronomy documentaries and other materials. She works with planetariums, science centers, and observatories on products that explain astronomy and space science to the public. Her most recent projects range from documentary scripts, exhibits for NASA/JPL, the Griffith Observatory and the California Academy of Sciences, to vodcasts for MIT’s Haystack Observatory and podcasts for the Astronomical society of the Pacific’s “Astronomy Behind the Headlines” project. As you can tell from this podcast, she has a soft spot in her heart for Griffith Observatory

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the world’s leader in variable star data and information, bringing professional and amateur astronomers together to observe and analyze variable stars, and promoting research and education using variable star data. Visit the AAVSO on the web at


Happy Birthday Griffith!
This is Carolyn Collins Petersen, the Spacewriter, with some thoughts about a very special astronomy place – the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Griffith Observatory opened its doors to the public on May 14, 1935. It was the beginning of a commitment to turning visitors into sky observers that has lasted for 75 years and is still going strong. By all accounts, it has been a wonderful achievement for the observatory. Generations of Los Angelenos have grown up visiting the facility on school field trips and family outings. Visitors from all parts of the world have come to Griffith and come away inspired by its views of the heavens and the Los Angeles basin. Not only can people look (for free) through a telescope at Griffith and actually see things in the sky, they can peruse a major exhibition about astronomy, see a show in the Samuel Oschin planetarium, and on selected occasions – hear speakers from many different research areas in astronomy and astrophysics in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater. You know, there aren’t too many places in the world that offer this kind of experience

This year, the observatory and the people of southern California are celebrating Griffith’s 75th birthday with a star-spangled bash. As part of the festivities, the staff has unveiled a new planetarium show called “Light of the Valkyries” – a tie-in to a citywide celebration of opera and the staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by the LA city Opera. The show takes viewers on a ride through the aurora borealis by way of Viking cosmology and mythology.

I think this is a marvelous continuation of the vision of Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, the silver magnate, real estate entrepreneur and astronomy buff who gave the money for the Observatory back in the early part of the 20th century. Griffith’s amazing generosity came after he visited Mt. Wilson in 1904 and looked through the new 60-inch telescope there. After his experience, Griffith came back down the mountain and said, “Man’s sense of values ought to be revised. If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world.”

Griffith began his bit to change the world by first donating a huge parcel of land to Los Angeles. It became Griffith Park. Next he began planning an observatory to be built on the land. Unfortunately, it was not completed until after his death. But, he left enough money to see his dream through. The family also directed that a planetarium be built in the facility. The first mechanical planetarium had been invented at the Zeiss company in 1923, four years after Griffith died. The planners for the facility wanted everything to be state of the art, and the planetarium was no exception.

In the years since it opened, Griffith Observatory has shown the sky to millions of visitors. Astronauts have trained there. Movies have been filmed there. People from all walks of life have strode across its lawn and into the marvelous art deco building brimming with exhibits. People simply love the place and they come back to it again and again.

By the year 2002, Griffith had been loved to pieces and was in need of repairs and renovation. The building was shut down and a huge makeover took place – including adding new exhibit spaces underground and creating a whole new set of exhibits. I was privileged to work on those exhibits as the senior writer. It was a transformative experience for me, and I became an instant fan of Griffith’s approach to educating people about astronomy. The observatory reopened in 2006 and has been going strong since then – following its commitment to bring the stars to everyone – and to turn visitors into observers.

I invite you to visit sometime – it’s a place you will never forget.

If you’d like more information about Griffith Observatory, visit my web page at: and click on the 365 Days of astronomy tab.

Thanks for listening!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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