The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope
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The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope

4.4 of 5 stars 4.40  ·  rating details  ·  50 ratings  ·  8 reviews
Almost a half-century after is completion, the 200-inch Palomar telescope remains an unparalleled combination of vast scale and microscope detail. As huge as the Pantheon of Rome and as heavy as the Statue of Liberty, this magnificent instrument is so precisely built that its seventeen-foot mirror was hand-polished to a tolerance of 2/1,000,000 of an inch. The telescope's...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published August 4th 1995 by Harper Perennial (first published 1994)
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The story of one of the great mechanical projects of the early twentieth century. I have a family interest in this one. My grandfather was a good friend of Russell Porter, one of the architects of the telescope, and an incredible genius.
When constructed in 1948, the Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California was the largest-aperture telescope in the world, at 200 inches twice as wide as the biggest telescope up to then, and remained such until the Soviet BTA, with a mirror 19% wider, was built in 1976. It was financed by a $6 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in the midst of the Great Depression, and went only 9% over budget. It took about 20 years from conception to completion; World War II interrupted...more
David Webber
This was a very readable account of one of the most productive and enduring scientific tools built in the 20th century - the Palomar Observatory near Escondido, CA. Many of the scientific and engineering challenges required very innovative solutions, and the complexity of grinding and polishing the 200-inch primary mirror is overwhelming. It is impressive to think that optical technicians would work for years on the primary mirror alone, first with GE's attempt at using fused quartz, then Cornin...more
Pretty good account of the construction of the Hale telescope. Dry in reading in places, but overall pretty entertaining and enlightening.
I like this sort of thing. Big, complex projects that have happy endings. The technology is cool, and the way the project ebbed and flowed was interesting to follow. It's an easy book to read, and can be set down for a while without losing momentum. Probably a guy book, though.
I re-read how George Ellery Hale, after building 3 of the world's largest telescopes, got the idea & the money for building the 200" telescope, and how it was built. Mirror innovated use of Pyrex, tube & bearings also novel
a great read. covers the politics, science, and engineering of the 200 inch telescope.
Wonderful technical history. I wish I knew where my copy was.
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Ronald Florence is a historian and novelist, the author of ten books including Lawrence and Aaronsohn, The Gypsy Man, The Perfect Machine, Blood Libel and Emissary of the Doomed. Educated at Berkeley and Harvard, where he received a PhD in European history, he has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East to research and explore the locations of his books. He lives in Providence, Rhode Is...more
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Lawrence and Aaronsohn: T. E. Lawrence, Aaron Aaronsohn, and the Seeds of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Emissary of the Doomed: Bargaining for Lives in the Holocaust The Last Season The Gypsy Man Zeppelin: a Novel

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