|There are 26 telescopes at Kitt Peak, but this one, the Mayall, is the best known. You can see Mexico from the observation windows! They study supernovas (when massive stars die) with this scope.|
While in Tucson over the winter break, we visited Kitt Peak with the kids. This national observatory was started by the National Science Foundation in 1958 to allow astronomers to do research. Before this, you had to be affiliated with a telescope/institution to get time. With the national observatory, anyone can apply to do research on a telescope, though only 30% who apply get time granted.
|You can see one of the observatories at the very tip of the mountain, though it's hard to see since it's so far away.|
While you can visit during the day, of course you'll want to see the stars, right? That's what the observatory is for! They have nighttime programs, one of which we attended. You should sign up ahead of time (fee applies) because it often sells out. It starts with a drive up there. From Tucson the drive was 90 minutes, depending on where you're coming from. There are a lot of lonely roads and cacti on the way - gas up ahead of time.
The observatory is actually on Native American land, and a sacred peak at that. Initially the government was denied permission by locals to build there. The tribe leaders were invited to the University of Arizona to see telescopes in action, and the elders changed their minds and allowed the observatories to be built. They have a huge respect for the night sky, and seeing the stars up close changed their minds.
|Beautiful mountain ranges you can see during the drive up.|
|We're reaching the top.|
|snow at the top of Kitt Peak - you're at 7,000 feet|
|dinner at Kitt Peak|
|A model of Kitt Peak National Observatory. You can see all the different scopes on site!|
|This is a concrete model of the mirror used in the Mayall telescope. They used this for the stand-in when constructing it. It's now painted and stands in the parking lot.|
Kitt Peak is the largest observatory in the world, meaning they have the most telescopes (26), though not the largest scope. The largest here is the Mayall scope, at 4 meters. When it was built, it was the second largest. Now it's around the 26th largest.
|Sunset at Kitt Peak|
|I think this is the Cerra scope, which is operated remotely via home computer.|
When it got close to sunset, we headed outside and got some AMAZING sunset shots. The coloring is the red rays of the sun going through the atmosphere. The observatory above moved its opening a few times, making a loud garage door sound. We got used to that, as we heard others throughout the evening (including the one we sat in), rotate to allow the scope to look at a different part of the sky. We learned about a handful of other scopes there, though this information was not so interesting to the kids.
We learned about the green flash phenomenon, which the guide said is real. That's when the sun just sets and you see a green flash on the horizon. I missed it, but others in our group saw it. Long explanation, but it has something to do with the atmosphere on the light from sunset.
Fun facts: the sun is a variable star, which changes its output over time. We have 4.5 billion years until the sun (a star) burns up. It will sterilize the earth with radiation in one billion years. It takes 8.4 minutes for sun light to reach earth.
|This is the world's largest solar telescope. There's a model of it in the visitor's center.|
While outside, the stars were so bright. Our guide used a green laser pointer that can go eight miles up! It's dangerous to the eyes, so we were warned never to look into one. We got little flashlights with a red light, which doesn't cause light pollution, and is super fun for the kids to play with. Turns out also that when your eyes are exposed to white light, they take 10 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Pirates would cover one eye with a patch not because they lost their eye, but because when they went below deck, they could switch the patch and see just fine in the dark below deck!