The Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, near San Jose, California
© Jeffrey Lewis/Tandem Stills + Motio
Legacy of light. Lick Observatory
Shrouded in the snow on the summit of Mount Hamilton, in the Diablo Range just east of San Jose, California, lies the world’s first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory. Constructed between 1876 and 1887, the Lick Observatory has been the site of significant discoveries including several of Jupiter’s moons and other planetary systems. It's named for American real-estate entrepreneur James Lick, who set aside $700,000 for the University of California to build a facility that would be home to a 'telescope superior to and more powerful than any telescope yet made.'
His wish came true. The 36-inch refracting telescope on Mount Hamilton was the largest that had ever been built from when it saw first light on January 3, 1888, until the construction of the 40-inch refractor at Wisconsin’s Yerkes Observatory in 1897. Sadly, Lick died before his vision became a reality, but his name lives on. His body is even buried beneath the telescope, which continues to scan the skies today.