Sunday, April 24, 2016


Kitt Peak is located about 55 miles southwest of Tucson.  It has one of the largest arrays of telescopes in the world, including two radio telescopes, a solar telescope, and 22 traditional light gathering stellar telescopes.  Of the 25 large telescopes, 4 are run by the National Science Foundation and the remaining 21 are owned or managed either by individual universities or by consortiums of schools.

On our recent trip to Tucson, we spent a very enjoyable day there touring the facility.  I would recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in astronomy (and who doesn't).  It also helped that, as is typically the case, the weather was clear and, because of its elevation of some 6,850 feet, about 15 degrees cooler than that in Tucson.

Here, first, are a couple of panoramic views of the telescope array on the mountain.

The largest dome in the second shot houses the largest telescope on the mountain, a 4.0 meter reflector.  (The size refers to the diameter of the primary reflecting mirror.)  In the first shot, the triangular shaped structure in the distance on the left is the solar telescope.  More about these later.  The Kitt Peak complex is located on a Native American reservation and exists by permanent permission of the resident tribe.

Here is a photo of a replica, built of concrete, of the mirror of the largest, 4.0 meter, telescope.  The replica has been painted by the tribe to reflect the relationship between the tribe and the astronomical community.  I should have had Geri stand in front of the replica (or behind it, looking out through the central hole) to provide perspective, as the disc is about 13 feet in diameter and, like the mirror that it is modeled after, weighs about 15 tons.

Kitt Peak is an operating astronomical observatory, not simply a tourist destination.  However, three tours are offered daily.  We arrived too late to participate in the tour of the solar telescope but did take the other two tours, which, as seniors, cost us a total of $9.75 each--a bargain, I thought.  Even though we did not formally tour the solar telescope, we did have time to do a sort of "self-tour."  Here are a couple of shots I took of that instrument.

To provide some perspective, the length of the diagonal component of this telescope is approximately 200 feet.  Here is a shot of Geri posed in front of that component.

The visitors center includes a number of interesting exhibits.  I took photos of a few of them, including the following:

A display showing the different sizes of the mirrors for the various telescopes.

A parabolic mirror--the shape of the surface of each of the reflecting telescopes at the facility--which turns images upside down.

Various diagrams of the telescopes.

And an interactive plasma electricity generator.  (Not sure of its relevance, but it was neat and made for an interesting photo.)

We toured both the 2.1 meter and the 4.0 meter stellar telescopes, but most of my photos are from the tour of the larger of the two.  When completed in 1976, the 4.0 meter scope was the second largest in the world.  Now it is no longer in the top 20 in size.  There are a couple reasons for that.  First, astronomical research is more and more an international enterprise and larger telescopes are being built in the southern hemisphere, including, notably, Chile.  Second, the construction techniques for telescopes have changed dramatically, allowing for much lighter mirrors and, importantly, mounting systems that are controlled digitally rather than mechanically.  For example, if a 4.0 meter mirror were built today, it would weight around 1.5 tons rather than the 15 tons that the mirror in the 1976 scope weighs.

I'm not sure of the function of the lower auxiliary structure, but it was connected with the 4.0 meter telescope.  The lower structure had an interesting design that showed nicely in the brilliant sunlight and I took a couple of semi-abstracts.

I also took a shot of the 4.0 meter scope from its base that worked well, I thought, as a semi-abstract.

The road leading to the observatory complex from the desert floor below offers a number of panoramic views.  Here is the best of those that I took.

There is a reason why I cropped this shot in such a narrow horizontal fashion.  I was unsuccessful in incorporating any foreground elements, such as trees, in the image, so the lower part of the shot had nothing to add.  And the sky above the horizon was essentially blank.  Cropping the shot so narrowly served to direct attention to what I thought were the interesting aspects of the image--the "islands" of peaks poking up through the general haze.


1 comment:

  1. What an interesting place to visit and great pictures!!