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Monday, August 31, 2009 - 7:56am

CA Fires Draw Closer To $20-M Georgia State Astronomy Project

A $20-million astronomy facility owned and operated by Atlanta’s Georgia State University is one of the many structures being threatened by massive wildfires in and around Los Angeles, California.

Hal McAllister is a professor of astronomy at Georgia State who also directs the research center operating the school's facility on historic Mount Wilson. McAllister on a website posting updated the fire's status Tuesday morning, from what he and officials can deduce from a towercam on the hill and other sources:

"Towercam scenes continue to show thick smoke on the mountain with a concentration on the right side of the image implying activity on the mountain's north side. It clearly has not reached the mountain and, if advancing towards us, it is only doing so slowly."

McAllister described a “white-knuckle weekend” as he and others monitored the fire's progress toward Mount Wilson.

McAllister says Georgia State’s telescope array in California is the most powerful of its kind in the world, and is important to astronomy research being done in that region of California:

"It’s an instrument that’s used to essentially zoom in on stars and see them close up. It has produced the first images that have ever been made of stars like the sun for example, and close binary stars orbiting around each other nearly touching. So it has these kinds of unique capabilities that have brought a lot of attention to what we’re doing.”

McAllister says Georgia State’s telescope array sits on Mount Wilson immediately adjacent to a large broadcast area that has towers for many of the southern California TV stations. Additionally, three California universities operate astronomy projects on the mountain.

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