Kitt Peak, Arizona – 50th Anniversary

Kitt Peak
Mayall 4-meter telescope at
Kitt Peak National Observatory
Image Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF

Kitt Peak National Observatory is celebrating its 50 year anniversary (dedicated 15 March 1960) with two symposium: From First Light to Newborn Stars 14-17 March 2010, followed by An Eventful Universe 17-20 March 2010. March 17 will bring together both symposiums with additional speakers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Observatory.

Kitt Peak was selected in 1958 as the site for a national observatory from a survey that included more than 150 mountain ranges across the United States. Located on lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation in the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson, Arizona, Kitt Peak today is home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes under desert skies that continue to be some of the finest in the world for astronomical observations.

Kitt Peak is open to the public daily from 9 AM to 4 PM, except Thanksgiving Day, December 24 and 25, and January 1. The hours of operation for the Kitt Peak Visitor Center are 9 AM to 3:45 PM. There is a suggested $2 donation per person to the Visitor Center.

Solar Observatory
McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory
Image Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope was dedicated to Dr. Robert McMath on 2 November 1962 and was later renamed to honor Dr. Keith Pierce as well. It is the largest unobstructed aperture optical and solar instrument in the world, with a diameter of 1.6 meters.

A 3-mirror heliostat sits atop the 100 foot tower and directs light down the two hundred foot shaft to the prime focus deep underground. The McMath-Pierce observatory is used to study the sun, including sunspots, such as the one at the right.

The McMath-Pierce is sensitive enough to observe bright stars in the night.

Rare Spiral Sunspot
Image Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF
Mayall 4-Meter Telescope
Mayall 4-Meter Telescope
Image Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF

The 4-meter (158 inch) Mayall Telescope is named for Nicholas U. Mayall, the former Director of the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world, and is equipped with a wide field imager camera. This camera produces color pictures of astronomical objects such as M 101, the Pinwheel Galaxy, using a 8192 x 8192 pixel CCD Mosaic camara.

Images from the Mayall Telescope have been key to understanding the dynamical structure of elliptical galaxies such as M87 (at right) and M49.

Image Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF
WIYN 3.5-Meter Telescope
WIYN 3.5-Meter Telescope
Image Credit: WIYN and NSO/AURA/NSF

The WIYN Telescope is the newest telescope on Kitt Peak. It was dedicated October 15, 1994.

The WIYN telescope is credited with important work in researching supernovae in distant galaxies, in understanding the origin of gamma ray bursts, and in the evolution of stars in clusters.

Observations include the Rosette nebula (right) and its proto-stars:

“Most young stars are embedded in very dense molecular clouds, which makes our view of the early stages of star formation normally impossible with optical telescopes,” says Travis Rector of the University of Alaska Anchorage, co-author of a paper on the young stellar object (YSO) in the December 2003 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters. “This is one of only a few cases where a protostar is visible, making it a valuable discovery that will be studied in detail.”

Rosette nebula (NGC2237)
Image Credit:
T. A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage,

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