First published in the July 28 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Sam Hale’s earliest memory of the Mount Wilson Observatory was being a 7-year-old in awe of some of the largest telescopes created for nearly a century — designed and built by his late grandfather George Ellery Hale, who founded the observatory in 1904.
Although his grandfather’s stature became apparent to Sam Hale at a young age, it wasn’t until later in life that he would learn of the breadth and depth of his grandfather’s contributions to the world of science and the impact he had on the local community and beyond.
In addition to the 60-inch, 100-inch and solar telescopes that reside on Mount Wilson, some of G.E. Hale’s most notable accomplishments include being instrumental in the building of the California Institute of Technology, bringing the concept of the Pasadena Civic Center to life, being the moving force behind the Huntington Library and Art Gallery evolving into a vital center for the study of humanities and developing the plans for the 200-inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory.
“My grandfather thought incredibly big, he was a visionary, and with every one of his telescopes — even before he was finished with one telescope — he was thinking about the next much bigger telescope,” Sam Hale said. “He was always thinking into the future. I think that’s one of the things I took away from him — to think big.”
Sam Hale, who is the president of the Mount Wilson Institute’s board of trustees, carries on G.E. Hale’s legacy through his role at the institute by expanding operations with education and uplifting scientific literacy in Southern California.
Despite not knowing his grandfather personally, Sam Hale said he’s gotten to know the scientist and astronomer through the gradual accumulation of knowledge he has gained over the years.
Through the end of June and into July, Sam Hale recently hosted a family reunion in honor of his grandfather’s 154th birthday. He used this opportunity to connect with family members dispersed across the United States, some of whom he had never met, to introduce or reacquaint them with the rich heritage and history of the man who connects them.
“Being able to share the humanity of a man, who was an incredible human being as well as a great scientist, with people who I am related to and now know, was a moving experience for me,” Sam Hale said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be able to do that. I’ve never had an experience quite like it.”
To celebrate G.E. Hale, the family toured Caltech, visited Pasadena’s Hale Solar Lab, explored the Mount Wilson facility and attended a public event that hosted guest speaker Wendy Freedman, who presented “George Ellery Hale and the Century that Changed Cosmology,” to conclude the last day of festivities.
In Freedman’s lecture, the University of Chicago professor and former director of the Carnegie Observatories said the development of the James Webb telescope could be directly attributed to G.E. Hale’s innovation of telescopes — paving the way for the construction of the largest space telescope to date.
“That was a wonderful way to cap the weekend off — connecting the future and the past, with my grandfather being the link,” Sam Hale said.
Lastly, attendees were invited to picnic on the mountain and peer through G.E. Hale’s telescopes under the night sky. Though he has visited Mount Wilson many times since childhood, Sam Hale said the experience never gets old for him.
“Mount Wilson is where we discovered the expanding universe — where we discovered where we, as human beings and the Earth, came from,” Sam Hale said, “including the far outer reaches of outer space, the big bang and the creation of the universe. This is where modern astronomy was created — up there — and where some of the most significant telescopes in the history of telescopes are located.
“That place has an incredible magic to it,” he added. “When you see the observatory and understand the magnitude of what was discovered there … it’s humbling. There’s something riveting about it all.”
Sam Hale is following in his grandfather’s footsteps by keeping his memory alive and continuing his leadership at the Mount Wilson Institute.
“I hope that, in my small way, I’ve been able to continue his legacy, because I passionately believe in who he was and what he meant to the world,” Sam Hale said. “That’s my role today — to tell his story.”