Observatory Stories Best of 2018

By Anthony Perkic

After almost a full year working, it’s fun to remember the highlights from the iconic place. I have decided to narrow it down to five short stories all spread throughout the year. Some are funny or leave a happy impression, while others felt like an adventure full of twists and turns as they happened! Enjoy!

Mars Close Approach Event 7/31/2018
Mars Close Approach Event

On the night of July 31, the Observatory held a special event to celebrate Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003. It was held throughout the location, both on the roof and on the lawn where not only our official telescopes were in use, but many telescopes from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society were present on the lawn. Griffith’s All Space Considered team were all present for a special live broadcast, complete with views from the historic telescope, and interviews with notable figures like Buzz Aldrin, which they did on the east roof outside the Zeiss dome. NASA was using Griffith’s feed for event as well!

I was assigned a C11 to be on the west roof, where members of FOTO (Friends of the Observatory) would have special VIP access and look at Jupiter and Saturn through two telescopes before being directed in groups to the Zeiss where Mars was in view. At first, it was cool to be in the VIP section, but then trouble happened!

The C11 I was given wasn’t working! It wasn’t turning on! The main power connection somehow got busted despite not being in use for several months prior, but of course this was a problem! It was then decided to get a C8 that we use for school programs only, and put it to use instead. But when I tried focusing on Saturn, it wouldn’t focus! The telescope had been bumped so many times from school program use as a solar telescope that its mirrors were way out of collimation (alignment)! After the mirrors were realigned, the telescope decided not to track properly! Three strikes, and you’re out!

At the same time, there were FOTO members on the roof clearly seeing how frustrated I was getting, and thankfully my fellow colleague was playing it down, like saying “oh these telescopes are well used, these things tend to happen.”

When everything was fixed, the FOTO members definitely enjoyed their views of Saturn and Jupiter, more likely more so than Mars, because Mars was having a major sandstorm at the same time, making it almost impossible to see any features like polar ice caps! Still, those who got the VIP access on the roof had almost no waiting times, and I even let them attempt to take pictures through the telescope with their phones, something I usually don’t allow.

The event was long but fun when everything worked out in the end.

“Can I buy that laser off you?”

It’s not surprising when people are impressed with my bright green laser instead of the stars I’m actually pointing at. Usually they are people who haven’t seen one, or are simply not interested in the stars at all. “Can you shine that laser again?” “Where does one get a laser like that, I want one!”

One man, who looked to be a young adult no older than his early twenties, came up to me after I gave a tour of the stars and said, “Hey, I want to buy that laser off you!” Of course I was baffled and asked him, “Seriously?” “Yeah, man, can I buy that laser off of you?” So then I asked him, “how much you got?” and was met proudly with, “I have $120 bucks in my pocket right now!” Calling him out, I said, “okay, sold! $120 it is!” Of course, then he said, “But I don’t want to pay that much for it!” And I just laid it in, “then go buy one yourself online like I did!”

“But… but… can’t you let me try it?” “Nope, sorry!” “Come on, man, I just want to see it!” “Can’t let you do that!”

He left me alone for a bit after that, but he wasn’t done. Later on, I was showing Mars to a line that was so long that I had to get a guide to close the line before the usual closing time so I could get the telescope put away and stored below on time. Of course, he tried bypassing the line and getting by myself and the observatory guide, who was on duty standing at the back of the line turning people away.

Like a child upset he didn’t get a present at his sibling’s birthday party, he pleaded, “Can’t I get a view?” The guide of course responded, “No, the line is closed!” But he wouldn’t quit. “Please, I promise I won’t take too long!” I responded, “I have to power down and get this scope stored below by a certain time, or we can get in trouble!” “Can’t you allow in one more person?” The guide explained, “No, because if I let you view, then it isn’t fair to all the other people we’ve had to turn away.” He kept pleading, “Come on man, I just want a quick peek!” Finally, the guide said, “if you don’t walk away right now, we’ll get a ranger to come tell you why, but he won’t be as nice about it as we are!”

He eventually realized he wasn’t getting his way and retreated. When I told the guide helping me about earlier when he tried to buy the laser off of me, we both concluded that he clearly was used to getting whatever he wanted, and didn’t take “no” for an answer.

That Heat Wave

A record breaking heat wave hit Los Angeles in early July. The temperatures were reaching 115° F, even at the Observatory! On this particular day, it was my night inside the Zeiss dome, which of course is NOT an air conditioned part of the building, thus if it’s hot outside, it’s like an oven inside! When you add in the fact that I have to wear business attire inside the dome, that means it’s NOT a fun time!

When I arrived at the observatory, I walked up to see the building was being evacuated due to a power outage! My initial thought was “Uh oh, that must mean it’s a brown out at the observatory, that’s not a good sign!” Then we found out that this was actually a planned power outage by L.A.’s Department of Water and Power (DWP) , apparently for maintenance and repair purposes. The only problem is that they didn’t bother to tell anyone at Griffith Park (Observatory, Greek Theater, Zoo, etc) of the scheduled time, so there was no planning around it. That meant that people had to get refunded tickets for shows in the planetarium, and it kept things delayed for over an hour before we could let people back in the building.

DWP could have communicated it better of course, but they also could have done it on a Monday when the building is closed, or how about NOT doing it during the middle of a record breaking heat wave when people need their AC on full blast?!

Finally, when the building reopened, I was tasked with keeping the restless people inside the hot Zeiss dome calm and content, and despite the heat, I managed to do it! At the end, I underestimated how many people to try and let in before the dome shut its doors, and of course was met with a super crowded dome at closing time while it was still over 100°F! Even though it took much longer to close, thankfully, no incidents occurred. When it was all said and done, my voice was hoarse from the heat, and even though I was told “you’re the real MVP for dealing with that tonight,”  I was definitely advised “don’t let in that many people at closing again!”

“Why isn’t this telescope pointed at the Moon?”

People’s obsession with the Moon is often fascinating. Whenever I’m there, we get asked all the time where the Moon is, and if and when someone is viewing it through a telescope.

On this particular night, I started with showing Saturn to people in the Zeiss dome. Even though Saturn in my opinion is the best object to view, I was met with the question, “why isn’t this pointed at the Moon?” It hadn’t risen yet, so I was at least able to say, “because it’s not out yet!” Still, to me it’s a question that sounds snobby, like “Why aren’t you pointing it to where I want?” or “I want to see the Moon, why can’t I see the Moon?!”

Later on, Earth’s rotation caused Saturn to set behind the planetarium dome, meaning I had to choose another object to show. So, I decided to give the people in waiting in line a choice, “it’s up to you guys, would you rather I point this thing to the Moon or should I point it to Mars?” To my surprise, everyone in line unanimously voted for Mars!

But still not too long after, once again, I got asked the same, “why isn’t this pointed towards the Moon?” I replied, “Because the people ahead of you all voted for Mars! Go check with a telescope on the lawn!”

Finally, it was closing time, and as I was giving a final presentation to the lucky people who weren’t turned away after the doors closed, I once again was met with, “Hey, why isn’t this pointed at the Moon?” This time I was annoyed, and tried to be as blunt but as nice about it as possible, “Because I’m pointing it to Mars!” I was afraid he was going to ask me “can’t you switch it?” which I would have responded sarcastically, “sure, let me stop the line, take the time to move this five ton telescope and roof to the other side of the sky so just you can view the Moon!” But thankfully he shut up, and the night was over soon after that.

Here’s to an eventful 2019!



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