Astronomical conflagration?

By Daniel Holz | August 31, 2009 3:07 pm

The mountains surrounding Los Angeles are on fire. One of the world’s largest metropolises has an uncontrolled wildfire at its very doorstep:
The station fire above La Canada. Photo: Wayne Smith, via NYT.
The Mount Wilson Observatory sits in the middle of the San Gabriel Mountains, and is visible on a clear day from many places in the Los Angeles basin. As you walk around Pasadena you can’t help but glance up at the dome, and imagine Hubble diligently performing his observations almost a century ago. By demonstrating that the nebulae aren’t in our galaxy, he ushered in one of the most humbling developments in the history of humanity. He showed that our galaxy is only one of many, and that the Universe stretches well beyond the limits of our familiar Milky Way. And, as if this weren’t insulting enough, he established that the rest of the Universe is running away from us at a tremendous clip.

The fire is now threatening this historic observatory. A live webcam (more commonly used to provide astronomers sky conditions [is it snowing?]) shows the view from the top (it occasionally goes down due to heavy traffic; if it doesn’t load for an extended period it may be a bad sign). Lots of smoke, but no flames at the moment. This is, of course, a chilling reminder of the 2003 fire at Mount Stromlo. You can follow the progress of the fire here. Perhaps our man on the ground will chime in with some live-blogging? Note: Phil is keeping us informed.

As it happens, many communication towers are also found on Mount Wilson. Should the fire sweep across the peak, communications for much of the Los Angeles area may be compromised. No cellphones. No TV. No LAX. Back to the stone age.
downtown LA and mushroom cloud
Although this looks like a still from a Hollywood disaster movie, it is much scarier. This is really happening. It is a sobering reminder that, despite our best efforts, Nature still trumps Man.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, News, Science and Society
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