Instrumentation by the Decade: the 60s

2019-07-23 22:32:43.000 – Charlie Peachey, IT Intern


As projects for the military began to wind down in the early 1960’s, several more projects began. The opening on the summit enabled Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to step in with their own research. Collaboration with MIT goes back almost to the beginning of the Observatory itself. MIT contributed their help over the years to help make the observatory a successful research station. By lending everything from personnel to equipment, they set up a partnership that still continues to this day. The picture below is from the December 1962 issue of WindSwept.

The MIT research started in the early 60’s with the development of the “Radome”. The Radome was a spherical structure that covered the radar so it wouldn’t be damaged in the summit’s extreme weather.  It had a diameter of 31 feet and was placed about 200 yards from the summit.  The first test of this new system came during the winter of 1960-1961. The Radome spent an entire winter battling the conditions before it was proved to be a success.  Following that winter, the Radome was brought down from the summit and transported over 160 miles away to the roof of the Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, MA. This cutting edge research soon spread nationwide as most meteorological radars today are still based off of this design.  The first photograph below is of the Radome at the summit during its first winter. The second photo is of a modern-day radar courtesy of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and NOAA.
 As the 60’s progressed, MIT began work on another new research project at the summit. What started out as a project to study lasers turned into a cloud observation instrument that is typically found on most airport weather stations.  After developing the Radome, MIT researchers had a well-rounded understanding of lasers and their applications to meteorology.  This proved to be useful in the development of their new laser instrument.  Their new laser was designed to be beamed into the clouds in order to understand their structure.  MIT spent years shooting lasers into clouds in order to compare the response to a day with clear skies. Observing both scenarios allowed them to compare the different signals and understand the different sizes of cloud droplets and at what altitude they occur in the atmosphere.  It was the first time that meteorologists were able to study a cloud from the inside.  
Much like the Radome, the new laser was the beginning of a new type of instrument that is used daily in modern observations.  It gave birth to our modern-day group of Cloud Height Indicators, which work in a very similar way by also shooting laser beams into clouds to get data on cloud height.  It has proved useful in modern radar observations to determine droplet sizes in clouds, as well.
The first image below is of the original MIT built laser with a diagram from Mount Washington Observatory: the first 45 years 1932-1977.  The second image is of a modern-day cloud height indicator (also known as a Ceilometer) and it is from All Weather, Inc.
The 60’s also brought another unofficial mascot to the summit.  Herman was a type of Ermine and was also quickly well received by the staff.  He may not have been a fierce mouser like various cats before him, but he was a nice companion in the Observatory.  The article below is from a June 1965 issue of WindSwept.


Charlie Peachey, IT Intern

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