Lick Observatory is an astronomical observatory that is owned and operated by the University of California. It is located in a very steep area on Mount Hamilton in the Diablo Mountain Range east of Silicon Valley. The observatory is managed by the University of California Observatories, which has its headquarters on the U.C. Santa Cruz campus on the Central California Coast. The observatory's scientific staff moved from Mt. Hamilton to U.C. Santa Cruz in the 1960s.
"The observatory, in a Classical Revival style structure, was constructed between 1876 and 1887, from a bequest from James Lick of $700,000 (more than $20 million in 2016 dollars' value.)," according to Wikipedia. "Lick, although primarily a carpenter and piano-maker, chose the precise site atop Mount Hamilton and was buried there in 1887 under the future site of the telescope, with a brass tablet bearing the inscription, 'Here lies the body of James Lick.'"
Among Lick's requests was directed to Santa Clara County. He wanted the county to build what he called a "first-class" road to Mt. Hamilton. The road remains the main route to Mt. Hamilton. It is windy and often very narrow, so if you drive up to the observatories, please be careful. You may also choose to take Quimby from East San Jose, which will eventually meet the road to Mt. Hamilton. It is even narrower, in places, as the main road to the mountaintop.
"Lick chose John Wright, of San Francisco's Wright & Sanders firm of architects, to design both the observatory and the astronomer's house," according to Wikipedia. "All of the construction materials had to be brought to the site by horse and mule-drawn wagons, which could not negotiate a steep grade. To keep the grade below 6.5 percent, the road had to take a very winding and sinuous path, which the modern-day road (California State Route 130) still follows. Tradition maintains that this road has exactly 365 turns. The road is closed when there is snow at Lick Observatory.
"The first telescope installed at the observatory was a 12-inch refractor made by Alvan Clark. Astronomer E. E. Barnard used the telescope to make 'exquisite photographs of comets and nebulae.' The 91-centimeter (36-inch) refracting telescope on Mt. Hamilton was Earth's largest refracting telescope during the period from when it saw first light on Jan. 3, 1888, until the construction of Yerkes Observatory in 1897."
Wikipedia said Warner & Swasey designed and built the telescope mounting, with the lens manufactured by one of the Clark sons, Alvan Graham.
"E. E. Barnard used the telescope in 1892 to discover a fifth moon of Jupiter, Amalthea," according to Wikipedia. "This was the first addition to Jupiter's known moons since Galileo observed the planet through his parchment tube and spectacle lens. The telescope provided spectra for W. W. Campbell's work on the radial velocities of stars.
"In May 1888, the observatory was turned over to the Regents of the University of California, and it became the first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory in the world. Edward Singleton Holden was the first director. The location provided excellent viewing performance because of lack of ambient light and pollution; additionally, the night air at the top of Mt. Hamilton is extremely calm, and the mountain peak is normally above the level of the low cloud cover that is often seen in the San Jose area. When low cloud cover is present below the peak, light pollution is cut to almost nothing.
"On May 21, 1939, during a nighttime fog that engulfed the summit, a U.S. Army Air Force Northrop A-17 two-seater attack plane crashed into the main building. Because a scientific meeting was being held elsewhere, the only staff member present was Nicholas Mayall. Nothing caught fire and the two individuals in the building were unharmed. The pilot of the plane, Lt. Richard F. Lorenz, and passenger Private W. E. Scott were killed instantly. The telephone line was broken by the crash, so no help could be called for at first. Eventually help arrived together with numerous reporters and photographers, who kept arriving almost all night long. Evidence of their numbers could be seen the next day by the litter of flash bulbs carpeting the parking lot. The press widely covered the accident and many reports emphasized the luck in not losing a large cabinet of spectrograms which was knocked over by the crash coming through an astronomer's office window. Perhaps more notable was the lack of fire or damage to a telescope dome."
Lick Observatory has been consistently upgraded throughout the years.
"In 1950, the California state Legislature appropriated funds for a 300-centimeter (120-inch) reflector telescope, which was completed in 1959," according to Wikipedia. "The observatory additionally has a 61-centimeter (24-inch) Cassegrain reflector dedicated to photoelectric measurements of star brightness, and received a pair of 51-centimeter (20-inch) astrographs from the Carnegie Corporation."
Over the years, Silicon Valley light pollution has been an issue, and there was discussion of moving telescopes.
"In the 1970s, a site in the Santa Lucia Mountains at Junipero Serra Peak, southeast of Monterey, was evaluated for possible relocation of many of the telescopes," Wikipedia stated. "However, funding for the move was not available, and in 1980 San Jose began a program to reduce the effects of lighting, most notably replacing all streetlamps with low-pressure sodium lamps. The result is that the Mount Hamilton site remains a viable location for a major working observatory. The International Astronomical Union named Asteroid 6216 San Jose to honor the city's efforts toward reducing Light pollution.
"In 2006, there were 23 families in residence, plus typically between two and 10 visiting astronomers from the University of California campuses, who stay in dormitories while working at the observatory. The little town of Mount Hamilton atop the mountain has its own police and a post office, and until recently a one-room schoolhouse. In 2008, there were 38 people residing on the mountain; the chef and commons dinner were decommissioned. By 2013, with continuing budget and staff cuts there remain only about 19 residents. In 2013, one of Lick Observatory's key funding sources was scheduled for elimination in 2018, which many worried would result in the closing of the entire observatory. In November 2014, the University of California announced its intention to continue support of Lick Observatory."
Lick is home to a variety of telescopes: C. Donald Shane telescope, 3 m (9.8 ft) reflector; automated planet finder, 2.4 m (94 in) reflector; James Lick, telescope 91 cm (36 in) refractor; Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope, 76 cm (30 in) reflector; Anna L. Nickel telescope, 1 m (39 in) reflector; Crossley telescope, 90 cm (35 in) reflector; Carnegie telescope, 50.8 cm (20 in) twin reflector.