San Diego’s Palomar Observatory Continues to Produce Amazing Views of Distant Stars


Edwin Hubble (namesake of the world famous Hubble Telescope) took the first photograph from Palomar Observatory in 1949. Nearly 60 years later, the Palomar Observatory is still at the forefront of providing many of the most amazing pictures of outer space.

In 2007, the clearest pictures ever taken of outer space came from our own Palomar Observatory. A BBC article about these amazing photographs notes the pictures are twice as clear as the ones taken from the Hubble Space Telescope.

For those who use Google Earth, you may have recently noticed a new feature called Google Sky. Many of the outer space images seen using Google Sky were taken at the Palomar Observatory, as noted in the Google Sky credits.

Palomar Mountain (northeast of Escondido and Valley Center) beat out locations in Hawaii, Texas, Arizona, and South America to become home to Caltech’s Observatory. In the mid-1930′s, the glass company Corning designed a 200 inch mirror made out of a new material at the time called Pyrex. When the mirror was transported across the country from Corning’s New York facility, it attracted the nation’s attention with thousands of spectators crowding around the train tracks to see the mirror as it made its journey to Southern California. (Read more about the history of Palomar Observatory.)

You can take a self-guided tour of Palomar Observatory, which I have done before. You will enter an observation hallway with tall glass windows giving you a close-up look at the telescopes providing some of the best pictures we get to see of space. Since my visit, they have added a 10 minute audio guide, which you can download before heading over to the observatory. I’d highly recommend doing this to make a richer experience. Since it is a long drive up to Palomar Mountain, you might as well enjoy the nearby hiking trails, where you can catch glimpses of expansive views over north San Diego County. As part of the Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Mountain is home to thick pine tree forest vegetation, which is a nice break from the dry areas in most of our county. Learn more from the Palomar Mountain State Park web site.

There are few daytime tours available on occasional Saturdays at the Palomar Observatory. (Update: More details in the comments below. Thanks Mike.)  However, I’ve just signed up for an upcoming Palomar Observatory Tour from the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center. We will get to learn from a guest speaker on astronomy and then view the night sky from this dark corner of San Diego with multiple telescopes set up for visitors. I think this might end up being the best way to visit the Palomar Observatory. (I’ll keep you posted.)

If you would like to keep up-to-date on astronomy happenings from the Palomar Observatory, check out the Palomar Observatory blog. Also, if you want to know why we are lucky in San Diego to get such great views of outer space, check out my blog post from last week.

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2 Responses to “San Diego’s Palomar Observatory Continues to Produce Amazing Views of Distant Stars”

  1. Mike Vergara says:


    I’m a Docent at Palomar Observatory. I’d like to update your blog comments. The public tours are every Saturday, at 11:30 AM and 1:30pm, from April through October. There is a nominal fee for these tours.


  2. The Best Places in San Diego says:

    Amazing! The Palomar Observatory Tour with the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is a must see activity for anyone who likes to look up at the stars. The inside look at the Hale Telescope and the stargazing in this remote wilderness provides an experience you will not forget. You’ll be amazed how many stars are above us as you get a clear view of the Milky Way and distant galaxies. You should also check out my latest post about a PBS documentary that is about to air chronicling the impressive scientific achievement of building the Hale Telescope.

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