The venerable Mt. Wilson Observatory in California was under threat of wild fires, and had been evacuated. The webcam on its 150 ft solar tower showed images of an eerie landscape reminiscent of Mars, as the flames down the mountain illuminated a smokey night sky.

Night view from the solar tower just after evacuation from the Station fire.

The view from Mt. Wilson during the Station fire.

Established in 1904, “in the twenty-first century, the Observatory hosts several of the most technologically advanced facilities in the world for studying astronomical objects with unprecedented resolution and clarity. The 100-inch Hooker telescope remains in active scientific service, and the solar towers are daily collecting data representing the world’s longest continuous record of the sun. ”

View from the Mt Wilson SolarCam

Current view from the Mt Wilson SolarCam. Click on image for large view.

Fire blogging ceased from the Mt Wilson site on Sept 2, 2009. The image above is the current solarcam image from the tower, and is updated throughout the day. The hills beyond the dome were almost completely burnt over in the fires. Over time, regeneration should be evident in the solarcam images.

Update 2009/09/04: While not specifically mentioned in the MWO director’s blog page, it appears the solarcam web cam feedline has been repaired, as the picture below is recent. Situation remains hopeful for a positive outcome.

Update 2009/09/03: The Station fire that is threatening MWO has now burned an area of 219 sq. mi, an area the size of San Francisco or Philadelphia, and is 38% contained as of today. Brandon Riza, an area photographer, has made a time lapse video of the Station fire, showing the enormity of it. [h/t WUWT]

Update 2009/09/01 (2): “The Mount Wilson webserver has gone down, most likely due to a backfire infiltration of a pull box containing telephone lines that bring us our T1 internet service. There will be no more updates from the Towercam, the last one being upoaded at 13:49:06.

Update 2009/09/01 (1): Firefighters are apparently setting backfires in order to cut off the fuel supply in order to prevent the Observatory area from being overrun. This is the explanation for the new smoke visible in the webcam.