The Cooke Dome is located on the steep ridge heading south to the Monastery, the Mount Wilson Observatory's home away from home for visiting astronomers.
Adjacent to this dome in 1905, the famous and beloved astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard, at the invitation of Mount Wilson's founder and first director George Ellery Hale,
obtained 40 of the 50 fields for his magnum opus, "An Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way" published in 1927. Tales are still told on Mount Wilson about the inexhaustible
Barnard, working and singing through the night from this airy perch while imaging the splendors of the Milky Way. Using the 10" Bruce Telescope, whose primary instrument
10" doublet of 50" focal length designed and built by John Brashears, Barnard called Mount Wilson home for nine months while collecting the images that today
comprise his most
venerable and highly prized work. At a somewhat later date (around 1914), a near knock-off of the 10" Bruce Telescope known as the Cooke Telescope was housed in is dome.
In the 1960’s a 24 inch telescope was placed in the Cooke Dome, designed and built by Jim Westphal (former director of Palomar Observatory), Bruce Rule, and Bruce
Murray (former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) during the Apollo space mission era in the 60’s. Its purpose was to study the Moon in order to determine
whether the surface was covered by a thick layer of fine dust, as some scientists believed at the time. There were questions as to whether the Apollo spacecraft would be able
to land on the surface without sinking into this dust. Infrared observations carried out with this telescope revealed that there was no such dust layer, and therefore landing on the
moon would not prove hazardous to the Apollo astronauts. In1966 the famed UCLA astronomer, Eric Becklin, used the 24” telescope fitted with an infrared detector to
determine the center of the Milky Way and give mankind its first views of the center of our galaxy.
From the early 1990’s until 2004 the telescope and dome were dedicated to the Telescopes In Education program (TIE), bringing the opportunity to use a remotely controlled
telescope and charge-coupled device (CCD) camera in a real-time, hands-on, interactive environment to students around the world. TIE enabled students to increase their
knowledge of astronomy, astrophysics, and mathematics; improve their computer literacy; and strengthen their critical thinking skills. Telescopes In Education was a program
sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and developed through the efforts of numerous volunteers, businesses, and supporting organizations
including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
In spite of the fact that Mount Wilson is located in sunny Southern California, we do get plenty of snow in the winter. Here's a photo showing the 24-inch dome
after a large
winter storm passed through, dumping a few feet of the white stuff on the Observatory. In the background can be seen the tall buildings of downtown
Los Angeles and the
Pacific Ocean. On a clear day many offshore islands are visible from Mount Wilson, including the Todos Santos Islands off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico, some 120
air miles away to the south. At 5700 feet elevation in a beautiful coniferous and oak forest, it's sometimes hard to believe your so close to Los Angeles.