George Ellery Hale (1868 – 1938) was an American solar astronomer, builder, organizer and science entrepreneur. He is best remembered for having led the design, funding and construction of the Yerkes, Mount Wilson, and Palomar Observatories.
Hale graduated from MIT in 1890 with a Bachelor of Science degree and soon began building a scientific reputation with his invention of the spectroheliograph. In time, using improved versions of this instrument, Hale was first to detect magnetic fields on the Sun.
While teaching at the University of Chicago, he established and co-edited the Astrophysical Journal in 1895, the premier publication for research in astronomy and astrophysics. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1902 and he later helped organize the National Research Council in support of the nation's war efforts. In 1904, Hale was appointed director of the Mount Wilson Observatory and settled in Pasadena, California, where he became deeply involved in local education and culture, including the co-founding of Caltech and the creation of the Huntington Library. He served on Caltech's Board of Trustees from 1907 until his death in 1938.
Hale raised funds for the Palomar 200-inch telescope and served on the Observatory Council that oversaw its construction. When the telescope was dedicated in 1948, it was named the Hale Telescope in his honor.MORE
The animating vision for Palomar Observatory was a new 200-inch telescope, and the animating visionary was George Ellery Hale. Hale is considered one of the founders of modern stellar astrophysics. He led the development of the world’s largest telescope four separate times—the Yerkes 40-inch refractor, the 60-inch telescope and 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson, and completed after his passing the Palomar 200-inch telescope.
Hale, Arthur Noyes and Robert Millikan transformed Pasadena’s Throop Institute into today’s California Institute of Technology. His 1928 Harper’s Magazine article The Possibilities of Large Telescopes advocated the building of the 200-inch telescope, leveraging the experience of creating Mt. Wilson Observatory, and Hale secured the funding grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to build the 200-inch. Hale was also the premier solar observer of his time. Using solar telescopes on Mt. Wilson and in his Pasadena home and novel instrumentation of his own development he discovered that sunspots were strongly magnetized, and the solar magnetic cycle has a 22-year period.
Hale died in 1938—unfortunately he didn’t live to see the telescope and observatory that Palomar visitors see today. But the 200-inch was dedicated as the Hale Telescope in 1948, and for the next 45 years it was the most prominent telescope in observational astronomy. Today the Hale Telescope remains active every clear night, and at the forefront of astronomy research. Hale would be justifiably proud of the telescope’s legacy, contributing to topics as near as solar system architecture and as grand as the large-scale structure of the universe, and everything in between.
There have been two Hale busts in the dome vestibule since the 1940s. The present bust is one of two cast by sculptor Marian Brackenridge. The other bust is at Caltech and both were donated to the institute by the Hale family in 1977.