Saturday, August 11, 2012

Worlds Collide at the Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles, CA 

August 5, 2012

Recently, I was in Los Angeles for the SIG Graph trade show, I drove down a few days early to take in some sights. Mireya declined my invitation to join me as she had a number of things to do at home and was very generous about letting me go on my own. More about the trade show later.
Official Photo of the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles
Leaving San Jose at 1:00, stopping only for dinner in Pismo Beach (Giuseppe's), I arrived at the hotel at 10:00, but my room wasn't ready till well past midnight. Earlier in the day, a large group had checked out late and messed up the house keeping schedule. Still the hotel gave me a drink voucher to make my wait more pleasant, a breakfast voucher for the next morning and then upgraded me to a suite, which was a sitting room and bedroom separated by a sliding door. Two bathrooms!
Two views of my hotel room

Then, when I came back on Sunday evening from being out all day, there was an apology letter from the manager with a gift box of nuts and dried fruit. Needless to say, they (over) redeemed themselves.

Pretty good view from the windows as well. Here, you can see the LA Studios and the 110 freeway in the foreground and Hollywood in the distance. If it wasn't for the smog, I could have seen the Capitol building, the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory unaided.
The view from my window with Hollywood in the far distance.

Here's "Hollywood" posing for a close up (so vain). This icon was once a real estate promotion that originally said, Hollywoodland. I always look for the sign when driving north on The Ventura Freeway (101). You can see it plainly just before the Hollywood Blvd exit.
The Land-less Hollywood sign as seen from the Griffith Observatory.

I used to watch the Late Night with Craig Ferguson show online every week before I got bored with it (his interviews are awful.) The theme song opening starts with this image of the Griffith Observatory, which I put on my list of "must sees" for Los Angeles. Also, Mireya's studies have rekindled my interest in astronomy.
Opening shot from Late Night with Craig Ferguson

Here it is in the late afternoon sunshine. Marvelous art deco structure. World's first planetarium, which still operates as do the astronomical equipment. Betcha the maintenance costs are astronomical as well. :-)
The Griffith Observatory

The observatory faces south: no accident, this is the best orientation to follow the path of the sun and the change of seasons and celestial months. I failed to notice if the cafe offered Celestial Seasonings herbal teas, but as the long line up for the single cashier provided a full eclipse of the drink counter, I put off my thirst till dinner time (Fred 62 on Vermont Avenue). Tip: take a bottle of water with you if you visit.

You can see on the diagram to the right a space called the Gottlieb Transit Corridor. No, not a bus stop or muni station, but a place to study the path of the sun and witness the correlation of clocks and calendars to the path of the sun. I didn't go inside the main level, that's something to do for next time.
From the Observatory's web site

There was plenty to see outside.
The view from the observation deck looking back at the front lawn.

Looking back at my hotel room, for example...
Towards downtown

Have you ever wondered exactly what's inside those domes?
The eastern telescope dome

You're welcome to take a look and I suppose there are times in the evening when the public is invited to look through the telescope.
Entrance into the east telescope dome

Here's where all the action is. While critically important, the actual work is slow and tedious. Carl Sagan did a good job of explaining what astronomers do in his 1980 TV series Cosmos, which I rewatched in its entirety on Netflix streaming during several evenings in July.
The Ziess 12 Inch Refracting Telescope

As for the western dome...
I didn't know what a coelostat was either
From the Britannica online:
"[A coelostat is a] device consisting of a flat mirror that is turned slowly by a motor to reflect the Sun continuously into a fixed telescope. The mirror is mounted to rotate about an axis through its front surface that points to a celestial pole and is driven at the rate of one revolution in 48 hours. The telescope image is then stationary and nonrotating. The coelostat is particularly useful in eclipse expeditions when elaborate equatorial mounting of telescopes is impossible. Other instruments applying the principle of the coelostat for similar observations are the heliostat, which produces a rotating image of the Sun, and the siderostat, which is like a heliostat but is used to observe stars."

Coincidentally, outside on the lawn, there was a docent offering views of the sun through a specially filtered telescope. His filter was optimized to show solar flares.
A docent with his solar flare filtered telescope

This photo from a Huffington Post article represents what I saw, but the actual view in the telescope was not as dramatic.
Borrowed image of the sun and its flares

Looking for Hollywood stars? Actually, that telescope by the lamp post was looking a sun spots, using a different filter than the solar flare filter.
A sun spot filtered telescope

Or looking to become a star. 

This nicely dressed young lady stepped into my shot after I had waited 5 minutes for someone else to finish up with their photos. Are straw hats back in again? Looked good on her. Now she's starring in my blog. :-)

James Dean starred in "Rebel Without a Cause," which was the first movie to use the Griffith Observatory as a serious location. The high school kids in the movie go on a field trip to the planetarium. In return, the observatory has paid homage to Dean and the movie with this memorial.

Before Rebel Without a Cause was released, James Dean killed himself in a car accident on a lonely stretch of Highway 46 east of Paso Robles. He was driving, not speeding, west into the sunset and didn't see a car turning left onto Highway 41 ahead of him until it was too late. Here's the story in more detail.

I once drove that Highway 46 east from Paso Robles to Lost Hills at the I-5. It is a 2 lane highway full of semi-trailer trucks. It is very windy (both pronunciations) so you find yourself holding your breath as you pass each truck. If you don't pass each truck, soon, you'll have an impatient convoy of cars on your tail. I'll never take that highway again.

The fast way to drive from San Jose to LA, is to take the 156 east from Gilroy to the I-5 and then come into LA from the north. The route is congested and ugly unless you like oil derricks, fruit flies and cattle crammed into slaughterhouse pens. Although, it is worth mentioning that at the rest stop near Coalinga, the magpies are as common as pigeons in a city park.

Even though the 101 adds extra time, it is such a better trip full of pleasant scenery. For even more pleasant scenery, take the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Paso Robles, but add an additional 2-3 hours for the windy roads and the temptation to stop often to take in the view of the coastline.

I mean, who would rush past this view to make good time on a driving vacation?
PCH in Big Sur with the Bixby Bridge (taken on a previous outing)

3 options for driving from San Jose to downtown LA with time estimates based on no stops and without any traffic congestion (however, expect to stop at least once for gas and a snack along the way):
  1. By the 101 to Gilroy, then 156 east to Los Banos and the I-5 and south: 5.5 hours
  2. By the 101 south to Los Angeles including the Rte 154 short cut near Santa Barbara: 6.5 hours
  3. By the Pacific Coast Highway with no shortcuts: 7.5 hours.
I took option 2, made several stops, encountered some congestion near Salinas and Santa Barbara and got to the hotel roughly 9 hours after I left. Had I taken option 3 for the very first time ever, it could have taken me 11 or 12 hours to complete the trip. There really is too much to see along the way and the best way to take this trip is with no real target time for your final destination.

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