Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Highway to the stars

On yet another lovely sunny day we set off to explore Kitt Peak National Observatory.   We followed highway 86 until we reached highway 386,
we took a left and followed the road up the very steep, curvy mountain road. 

There were great views, and, unlike Mount Lemmon we didn’t see any cyclists.

The original way up the mountain was a 7 mile long, very steep, very rough dirt road that literally went straight up the side, the road is still there and apparently very occasionally someone will ride a motorbike up that way. 

The observatory, which was established in 1957, occupies 200 acres of the summit.   Our guide told us that Kitt Peak is the second most sacred peak of the Tohono O’odham people and is known as I'itoli’s garden, Baboquivari Peak, below, is the most sacred peak and home to I'itoli, the Creator.

There are 25 optical and 2 radio telescopes on the summit of Kitt Peak, and in 1985 the National Science Foundation signed a perpetual agreement with the Tribal Council of the Tohono O’odham Nation for the use of the mountaintop as long as only scientific research facilities are maintained there. 

Kitt Peak National Observatory is part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) which is based in Tucson.  NOAO also operates an observatory in Chile and provides US astronomers with access to the Gemini North and South telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. 

The first tour took us to the 2.1M telescope that was built in 1964, which is still in use on a nightly basis.   

Our next stop was the Meade Solar Telescope Array

where we were able to look through a telescope at the sun and see sunspots and solar flares, it was fascinating.

Sadly we hadn't allowed ourselves enough time to look at the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope as well.

After some lunch I headed off to visit the Mayall 4M Telescope, our first stop was actually the car park where there is what looks like a concrete donut.

It’s actually an almost exact replica of a telescope mirror and is used when setting up a telescope instead of the highly polished mirror, just in case after all imagine something happening to the actual mirror! 

On the way up to the Mayall 4M Telescope we saw an open radio telescope being re-positioned.

The Mayall 4M Telescope

A model of a working telescope

From the observation deck part way up the telescope we had a great view of the site.

The observatory closes at 4.00 p.m. but if for any reason you were there on a tour and left after dark, then for the first mile down the mountain you can’t use your headlights, you simply follow the tail lights of someone who knows the way.  I bet that’s pretty spectacular and probably the longest mile you’d ever drive!  

On both the tours our guide was very informative and knowledgeable, not too technical and at the time it all made perfect sense.   At the end of the tour our guide touched on the expanding universe, dark matter and dark energy now, to me, that really sounds like something out of Star Trek!

Have fun, we are!


  1. We drove by the Kitt and because of schedule couldn't stop. Looks like we missed a special place.

  2. Oh it was, I really enjoyed it, if you're back that way again it's definitely worth visiting. Have fun!