About the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy

General

The Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy is a non-profit astronomical observatory founded in 1972 and dedicated to research and education in astronomy. It is the first independent professional observatory founded in the 20th century. The offices, library, and shops are located on the Richard W. Hamming Astronomy Center on the old Ft. Ord site near the new California State campus at Monterey Bay. The Astronomy Center includes a main building, electronics and machine shops, and the Bette M. and William R. Weaver Student Observatory.The Institute operates the Oliver Observing Station atop 5000 foot Chews Ridge. The station houses a 36-inch reflecting telescope used for astronomical research. Because of the excellent atmospheric conditions in the Santa Lucia Mountains, the first to intercept the smooth airflow from the Pacific Ocean, and the dark skies of the Los Padres National Forest, the observing conditions are among the best measured in the world.

Founding

Six of the founders were graduate students at the Observatory and had decided to band together and start their own observatory rather than separate and seek jobs individually in the astronomy job market. They felt that the time had come for individual funding to reassert itself after having been chased from the scientific funding scene by Federal funding in the post-World War II era. There were many models for this approach to the funding of astronomy, starting with Jason Nassau, who had funded the growth of Warner and Swasey Observatory. Though originally incorporated on February 29th, 1972, a minor error required reincorporation a few weeks later. The incorporation followed about two years of feasibility study and a pledge to commit for at least two years to the endeavor. By this time, unfettered by an institutional location, they had chosen what they felt was the optimal site for optical astronomy in the continental United States.

Oliver Observing Station

The Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy operates the Bernard M. Oliver Observing station on Chews Ridge within the Los Padres National Forest. Its longitude is 121 degrees 33 minutes 54.8 seconds and its latitude is +36 degrees 18 minutes 22.2 seconds. The observing station, beyond any commercial utilities, is supplied with electrical power from solar cells, a wind turbine, and LP-fired generators. It is composed of two three-story towers: the south tower encompasses the 36-inch roller-drive telescope and is unheated; the heated north tower contains the dormitory, control room, and utility rooms. A triple-layer roll-off roof ensures the slowest possible daytime heating while permitting the fastest possible cooling during the evening and undisturbed access of the airflow to the telescope.

Video of the Oliver Observing Station's roof retracting [YouTube].

MIRA selected the Chews Ridge site because of its excellent conditions for optical astronomy. The median seeing at the site is 0.9 arc seconds over the entire year. The best seeing is during Summer and Fall, where the median resolving power is 0.75 arc seconds. Seeing below 0.4 arc seconds has been measured during a comparative site study performed at the behest of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Approximately 50% of the dark time is photometric.