A Grant for Mount Wilson Institute’s Second Century

A large telescope painted bright blue stands in the middle of a domed observatory.

Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO) has watched over the Pasadena area since its opening in 1917, peeking out among the trees, keeping company with the looming telecommunications towers nearby. The Observatory has been the site of impressive scientific discoveries — it featured the most important scientific telescopes and astronomical instruments of the first half of the 20th century.

Today MWO welcomes 95,000 visitors annually to its beautiful mountain campus, and a 2023 $50,000 Capital Campaign Grant from Pasadena Community Foundation will help launch the Mount Wilson Institute’s Second Century Campaign to improve infrastructure and the visitor experience. Watch PCF’s video about the Second Century Campaign.

Four woman stand together inside the Mt Wilson Observatory, all looking expectantly upwards and smiling. The woman at the far left is holding up an iPhone to capture a photo.
MWI staff opened the observatory dome for awe-struck PCF staff.

A Mission of Education

Four wooden signs painted dark brown with white text line a vertical directional post - each turned a different direction with arrows pointing out locations, including the Mt. Wilson Inst Office, Echo Rock, the 100 inch telescope, and the visitors gallery. A domed, white observatory building is in the background.
PCF’s $50K grant will help MWI improve signage, among other infrastructure.

In 1904, George Ellery Hale obtained support from the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. to found the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory. Written into its founding documents, the MWO’s mission is to conduct science, educate the public about all aspects of the work, and maintain the grounds for public use and benefit.

Education remains a critical part of MWO’s 21st century purpose. Each year, 450 K-12 students visit to participate in a comprehensive STEM program, while the Snow Solar Telescope is still used by undergraduate students who get hands-on training in solar physics and spectroscopy.  The Observatory also hosts lecture series, concerts, telescope observing nights, and much more.

Funding from PCF will help MWI upgrade its aging infrastructure to ensure safe and fulfilling experiences on the campus for future generations. The project entails creating new historical markers and informational signage; improving paths, roads, lighting, and vista points; and eliminating non-native fire prone trees.

“Part of Everybody’s Cultural Legacy”

“It was called pleasure grounds in its early years because it encompassed so much,” says Board Chairman Sam Hale — who is also the grandson of George Ellery Hale, the American astrophysicist who secured funding from the Carnegie Institution in 1904 to build the Observatory. “Today it’s a little bit of everything,” says Sam Hale. “It’s a premier research facility, an educational institution, an historic site – it’s simply a working monument.”

“As the site of the most significant astronomical discoveries of the first half of the 20th Century, Mount Wilson Observatory is part of everybody’s cultural legacy,” says the MWI Board of Trustees. “We are incredibly grateful to the Pasadena Community Foundation for this generous grant. It will support the Institute’s mission ‘to manage and promote the Observatory for scientific research, historic preservation, education, public engagement, and the arts.’”

A smiling older white man faces the camera. He is outdoors near trees and wears a straw hat, putting his face in partial shade. His nametag reads Samuel D Hale.
MWI Board Chairman Sam Hale, who is also the grandson of MWO’s founder, George Ellery Hale.