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BIG BEAR ORIGINALS: The Big Bear Solar Observatory

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Published on Nov 18, 2014

Some people think John Varsik works at a missile launch site, or at some kind of water tank. In truth, the giant white golfball-shaped structure where Varsik goes to work every day is a solar observatory.

The Observatory has been operating in Big Bear since 1970, it was originally constructed by Cal Tech, and today is operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Observatory’s position is special—it’s at a high enough altitude that it sits above the hard-to-see-through marine layer. And it is mostly surrounded by the lake’s cool water which keeps heat from rising. Too much heat distorts images in the telescope.

Varsik has worked at the Big Bear Solar Observatory since 1988. But not everyone stays that long. The Observatory attracts scientists from around the world, many of whom stay for just a a year or a few months gathering solar data on the world’s most high resolution solar telescope.

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