April 1, 2013

Dome proliferation on Mt Hamilton

Throughout history, apparitions of transient events such as eclipses, meteor showers and particularly comets have been interpreted by skywatchers and soothsayers as portents of doom and harbingers of strange phenomena. However, in our enlightened times, scientific interpretations of such fascinating phenomena provide a rewarding intellectual pursuit, better satisfy humankind's inherent curiosity about nature and reveal the intimate connections between ourselves and the birth, evolution and fate of the Universe.

Thus, the recent appearance of comet C/2011 L4 Pan-STARRS, observed from Mt Hamilton in the evening twilight skies of early-mid March was interpreted as nothing more than a mesmeric natural spectacle and a beautiful demonstration of scientists' understanding of the dominant physical forces operating on the scale of the Solar System. Our faith in science seemed well-founded with nothing untoward occurring in the wake of the comet --- until the morning of 1 April, when the summit of Mt Hamilton seemed somewhat unfamiliar.

In the Observatory's 125th year, had the passage of the comet supernaturally changed the fabric of the summit? Or was there a more practical explanation. Hopefully, we shall be able confirm our interpretations later in Lick Observatory's anniversary year when another comet (C/2012 S1 Ison) is expected to appear in the skies of California --- and viewers at the World's first permanently equipped mountaintop astronomical observatory shall be watching.