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Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Night at Kitt Peak

Last night, my daughter and I drove 90 minutes to the outskirts of Tucson to the famous Kitt Peak National Observatory. From the base of the mountain upon which the observatory resides, we drove 12 miles and climbed to 6800 feet. When we moved to Vail, I was fairly impressed at living at 3300 ft. This was awesome. My daughter was very excited, she had been looking forward to this. She was not disappointed. I've captured a few of our photos below.

We made a reservation a few weeks back as part of their Nightly Observing Program (NOP). Last night they were completely full, at least 3 dozen in attendance. After a light meal, our host rushed us off to begin our nightly viewing. We broke up into groups. Twelve of us volunteered for the open-air roll-off building, and we had a chance to share viewing with a 16" Ritchey-Chretien scope. The Sky6 software was used to drive the system. The scope was hoisted on top of a Paramount robotic mount. Boy, if I had the bucks....

This next picture is of the McMath-Pierce solar facility, the largest solar telescope in the world. The above ground portion of the scope runs over 200 feet above the ground, where the rest runs another 300 feet under ground! The entire assembly (above and below) is refrigerated.

And here as you enter the visitor center, just two of the many domes across the mountain top.

This next photo was taken from our sunset viewing position.

Phone home anyone? Cell phones are not allowed, in addition to the glass and mirror telescopes the observatory maintains a few radio telescopes as well. They don't like cell phones there.

The obligatory big government commissioned observatory sign.

For academic and professional astronomers, this must be a great place to work. Around the site you can find dormitories attached or adjacent to each of the observatory domes. Apparently, to request a dome for research requires submitting a paper. If the paper is accepted, the wait can be 12 to 18 months. Each scope is booked for up to 3 astronomers every day of the year.

This last photo is of the 6-story tall Mayall 4-meter telescope. I'll let you figure out which one it is.

If you ever have the opportunity. Its a great visit. I would love to go back and try the Advanced Observing Programs, where you can spend a few nights using the observatories instruments yourself. You are treated as a visiting astronomer with complete access to their resources. It'll only run you $425/night per person, not including room and board which is an extra $80/night per person. Have to save my pennies...

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