On December 9th 2013, my Dad and I drove 56 miles Southwest of his home in Tucson, AZ to Kitt Peak National Observatory. Kitt Peak is the largest observatory in the world – housing more than 25 telescopes. Lying 6875 feet on top of the Quinlan mountain range on the Tohono O’odham Nation, we were led on a Docent tour of the Mayall 4-m telescope and surrounding area.
Entry Up The Mountain
The 12 mile drive up the Quinlan mountain range starts at Ajo Highway and Jct. 386. Travelers drive along the side of the mountain usually between 15 and 25 miles per hour. If you are feeling courageous – go faster – but I don’t recommend it. There are signs that say ‘watch out for falling rocks.’
The Mayall 4-m Telescope From The Entry Point
The Mayall 4-m Telescope can be seen 50 miles away. I’m taking this photo next to the Kitt Peak entry sign at Ajo Highway and Jct. 386. The Mayall is named after Nicholas U. Mayall – former Director of Kitt Peak National Observatory.
McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope
Arriving at Kitt Peak and walking to the Visitor’s Center, guests have a clear sight of the McMath-Pierce telescope in the distance. This solar telescope lies on the southeast section of Kitt Peak. The McMath-Pierce is the largest solar instrument in the world with its primary function being the study of the sun.
Mini-Model Layout Of Kitt Peak
Kitt Peak lies on 200 acres on top of the Quinlan Mountain range. Here is a geographical mini-model of the layout of the observatory. Visitors can walk up to a quarter mile to get from one telescope to another. It took 3 years of research before scientists agreed on Kitt Peak as the sight for the observatory.
I decided to have a little fun with the infrared camera in the Visitor’s Center. The Infrared camera detects light from 7-14 microns. Holding up various objects to the camera may result in each object being transparent or opaque. Science is awesome!
Eyes In The Sky
I’m looking down from the peak where the Mayall is located. I zoomed in to capture these two beauties looking skyward. “Eyes In The Sky.”
Where Does The Road Go?
We were led around this curve to get to the entrance of the Mayall. The Mayall lies just below the 6875 foot peak of this mountain range. In the distance you can see the Sonoran Desert. The crisp azure sky is amazing at this elevation.
The Mayall 4-m Optical Telescope – Structure
The dome of this awesome structure weighs 500 tons. The double shell structure comprising of 10 hexahedron sections can withstand hurricane force winds of up to 120 miles per hour. The Mayall lies on the northern side of the observatory.
The Mayall 4-m Optical Telescope
Visitors are not allowed to go inside the actual room to see the telescope. Everyone must stay behind the glass in the observing room where the Docent provides information and facts of the telescope and its role in astronomy along with answering all your questions.
Mayall Scenic Observing Gallery
This photo is taken of the Sonoran Desert from the Scenic Viewing Gallery inside the Mayall. The Scenic Gallery provides a 360 degree view of Kitt Peak and the surrounding area. There is a 2000 acre no construction buffer zone in every direction around Kitt Peak. This is to ensure minimum light pollution for better astronomical observing.
Where The Celestial Meets The Terrestrial
The azure sky over the Sonoran Desert. Everyone must be as quiet as possible during their visit due to astronomers sleeping throughout the day.
Kitt Peak houses over 25 telescopes. They control three of them – McMath-Pierce, Mayall 4-m and the 2.1. The others are owned and/or controlled by universities and other research facilities. Visitors can go on Docent led tours of the three telescopes controlled by Kitt Peak. Visitors can also book overnight events to view the skies with astronomers.