Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Diversion to
Kitt Peak National Observatory

Heading back east after warming up at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I passed the turn-off to Kitt Peak National Observatory.  I remembered my friends John & Theresa telling me about it.  I thought it could be interesting; so, I turned around.  The sign said 12 miles to the top.  And those 12 miles were mostly twists and turns to 6,875 feet above sea level; an elevation gain of 3,250 feet from the turn off.

At the 5,000 foot level you can see one of the larger
telescopes from the road.  2/9/14

The views from the drive up were outstanding.  2/9/14
 "Kitt Peak National Observatory:  The world’s largest collection of optical telescopes is located high above the Sonoran Desert under some of the finest night skies in the world.  Kitt Peak, on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, is home to twenty-five optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions." (Kitt Peak web site).

Kitt Peak National Observatory has been around since 1958.  2/9/14
I arrived at the observatory complex mid-afternoon, taking a break at their picnic area first.  Imagine my surprise when I looked up to see a gigantic 82 feet wide dish in front of me.  I learned that it was one of ten Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) Radio-Telescope Antennas in the world, each weighing 240 tons.

The VLBA at Kitt Peak:  1 of 10 "From Mauna Kea
on the Big Island of Hawaii  to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands,
 the VLBA spans more than 5,000 miles,  providing astronomers with
the sharpest vision of any telescope on Earth or in space."  2/9/14
When I got to the main complex, I went to the Visitor Center that had some
very nice displays, museum pieces, gift shop, and a 0.5m telescope.  2/9/14

Since I arrived mid-afternoon and the complex closed to the public at 4 PM, I missed the guided tours.  But, I tried to see as much as I could.

I first headed to the solar telescopes.  This one is the world's largest,
the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. 2/9/14

The public could look inside, walking in about halfway along the slanted side.
Here is a picture looking up the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.  2/9/14

Here is a picture looking down the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. 2/9/14
On the left, another angle of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, on the right
is the SOLIS Tower (a vacuum telescope, not open to the public).  2/9/14

On the right, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope again, and on the left
the Mead Solar Telescope Array which was open to the public for
solar viewing when I was there!  2/9/14

This was so cool!  I got to look through these telescopes at the sun.
One showed the sun spots (small cooler spots on the solar surface).
And the other showed prominences along the sun's edge.  2/9/14

The view from Kitt Peak, looking away from the solar telescopes
was spectacular too.  2/9/14

It was getting close to closing time, so I didn't go inside the other two telescopes that were open to the public -- the 2.1m Telescope and Mayall 4m Telescope.

A photo as I walked by the 2.1m telescope.  2/9/14

A photo as I drove by the 2.3m Bok Reflector (left), and the
Mayall 4m Telescope (right).  2/9/14

I hope to go back to Kitt Peak Observatory again, leaving enough time for tours and more exploration.


  1. Suanne, this looks like a great stop and I'm adding it to my list of places I want to visit. I love large arrays. Also Hi! I've been reading your blog for awhile and thought it was time to delurk :)

    1. Glad to have you here Jenn! Kitt Peak is definitely on my "to-return" list.

  2. Looks like fun- we've not taken the tour, but looks like we're going to need to....;-) A recent find if you get the chance- there's a small sign on the hiway an hour south of Tucson that says "Titan Missile Landmark"- on a whim, we decide to check it out, and discovered a full-up Titan Missile Silo, an ICBM where they have removed the warhead and fuel and it's a great museum now. WELL worth the time. Who knew???
    Teresa P

    1. Good find Teresa! When I'm back in the Tucson area, I'll have to remember to check it out. Take care.


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