As we entered the central rotunda of the observatory, the first thing we saw was the "Foucault Pendulum". The Foucault Pendulum was created in 1851 by French physicist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault and was the first direct proof that the Earth rotates on its axis. The pendulum is attached to the ceiling in a way that allows the pendulum to swing freely while a ring magnet above the ceiling keeps the pendulum moving without influencing the direction of the pendulum's swing. About every 7 minutes, the pendulum knocks over a peg because the Earth has moved underneath the pendulum, causing the next peg to fall into the path of the pendulum. The vaulted ceiling of the rotunda has beautiful painted murals depicting classical celestial mythology, with images of the planets as gods and the twelve constellations of the zodiac.
My favorite exhibit was the giant periodic table of elements in the Ahmanson Hall of the Sky section of the observatory. The exhibit explained that heavy elements up to uranium are created in supernova explosions because the high temperatures and pressures fuse the atoms together to make more complex elements such as gold, lead, and uranium. Elements with atomic numbers higher than 92 such as neptunium, plutonium, and californium are man-made and are created when scientists smash smaller atoms together in nuclear accelerators and reactors. I thought it was really interesting to see real samples of each element. There were buttons you could push that showed you which elements are found in the human body and the sun. In this area, there are also three solar telescopes that showed different real-time views of the Sun. You could see details such as sunspots and solar flares.
The other exhibit I really liked was in the Gunther Depths of Space area. There were models of each of the planets in our solar system with scales you could stand on to see how the gravity of each planet changes how much you weigh. Nearby these planet models, there is also a full-size bronze status of Albert Einstein holding up his finger about 1 foot from his face. From where Einstein is sitting, you can see "The Big Picture" exhibit, the largest accurate astronomical image in existence. Astronomers and scientists at the California Institute of Technology, Yale University and the Palomar Observatory worked together to create the image based on a very small sliver of the night sky. It contains over a million stars and galaxies in the Virgo supercluster of galaxies, but only represents the amount of the night sky that is covered by a finger's width held one foot from your eyes. In the image, stars look like small points of light and galaxies look like larger fuzzy spots of light. Any galaxy you see in the "Big Picture" is at least 50 million light-years away. The higher the temperature of the star, the brighter it appears.
In the Edge of Space Mezzanine, you can find the "Pieces of the Sky" exhibit, a large collection of meteorites including the largest stone meteorite in California as well as meteorites from Mars and the Moon. I learned that meteorites are worth a lot of money and that many collectors actually go hunting for them! The best place to hunt for meteorites is in California's dry, flat lakebeds because rocks that land there usually remain undisturbed. Another great place to look for meteorites is in the frozen fields of Antarctica where the rocks stand out on the white snow. Asteroids formed more than 4.5 billion years ago out of the same material that formed our planets. Some have been melted or broken down by collisions while others have not changed every since they were formed.
The "Hall of the Eye" shows us the progress of human observation and astronomy over the ages and exhibits different tools that have been used for astronomical observation. In this area, you can find a life-size replica of the telescope that Galileo used to study the night sky and to discover Jupiter's moons. There were all kinds of different astronomical gadgets and instruments and also diagrams explaining how telescopes work. Some other interesting exhibits in the observatory including a working seismograph, the former Zeiss Mark IV planetarium protector, and of course the 12-inch telescope. Unfortunately, the line for the telescope was too long and I did not get a chance to look through it.
The Griffith Observatory is a great place to spend the day with friends or family learning about astronomy and space without even opening a book! It really has something to offer for people of all ages (fun exhibits, amazing views of Los Angeles, a small Wolfgang Puck cafe).
There are many great homes for sale in the Los Feliz/Griffith park with amazing views!
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