The MIRA Story


MIRA: Exploring the Universe
from the Central Coast


The page you are viewing is taken from an exhibit called MIRA: Exploring the Universe from the Central Coast.
The exhibit ran from 1 July through 24 September 2000 at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

Westward Ho!
In the early 1970s, a group of astronomy graduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio had the startling idea of founding their own professional research observatory, independent of the university and governmental control that dominates the world of astronomical research.

They selected Chews Ridge in upper Carmel Valley for their observatory because of its outstanding qualities as an astronomical site. In 1972, the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy (MIRA) was incorporated as a non-profit organization.

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Above: from left to right the founders are Bruce Weaver, Sandra Weaver, Albert Merville,
Ann Merville, Cynthia Irvine, Nelson Irvine, Hazel Ross, Donna Burych, and Craig Chester.
The children are Glen and Cristina Weaver. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Weaver)

Building the Telescope
Encouraged by such distinguished advisors as Carl Sagan and Bart Bok, the MIRA astronomers set about making their dream a reality.

Princeton University donated an outstanding 36-inch telescope mirror, the Research Corporation granted funds to build a telescope, and the instrument was designed and constructed by Dr. Frank Melsheimer, who was at the time Chief Engineer of Lick Observatory.

Completed in 1977, the telescope weighs 5.5 tons and can carry up to 1,000 pounds of instruments.

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Installing the 36-inch telescope
truss on the fork arms. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Weaver)

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The MIRA 36-inch mirror in the realuminizing vacuum chamber.
(Photo courtesy of Bruce Weaver)

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Soon MIRA astronomers
were hard at work at
Oliver Observing Station.

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The skeleton of the Oliver Observing Station takes shape. (MIRA photo)

An Ideal Site
The U.S. Forest Service arranged for the use of the land on Chews Ridge near an existing fire tower, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a road, and in 1980, Dr. Bernard Oliver, a vice president of Hewlett-Packard, gave a challenge grant of $250,000 for the construction of the observing station.

With matching funds from MIRA’s support group, the Friends of MIRA, and from other sources, an innovative research facility was designed and construction begun.

The Oliver Observing Station
The Oliver Observing Station was dedicated in 1984. The facility is completely self-contained, using wind and solar power to generate electricity.

In 1999, Dr. Melsheimer’s company, DFM Engineering, performed a significant control system update, funded in part by the Kenneth Hess Foundation.

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The Oliver Observing Station seen from the west; the building is aligned N-S.
(Photo courtesy of Bruce Weaver)

The Astronomy Center
In 1997, MIRA became the first private organization to move into facilities formerly occupied by the Army on Fort Ord (now Marina).

MIRA’s new headquarters, the Richard Hamming Astronomy Center, houses administrative offices, computing and educational facilities, and the Priscilla Bok Library of astronomical research materials.

In 1998, the Weaver Student Observatory was opened on the Marina campus.

Whereas the Oliver Observing Station is exclusively a research facility, the WSO is dedicated to the other component of MIRA’s mission, education.

It is used for visits by school and university students, public star parties, and amateur observing.

solar images from the Weaver Student Observatory

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The moving target simulator building became the Richard W. Hamming Astronomy Center.

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  2000 MIRA

Last updated February 22, 2001 by et.