Tucson is known for many things, one of which is its dark skies. Not only are the surrounding areas of Tucson extremely dark at night, the city has taken special efforts to make sure that nighttime lighting in the city does not destroy the pristine dark sky stargazing of the Sonoran Desert. This past month we crossed another local item off our Tucson Bucket List with our good friends, Susan and Jeff. We headed up to Kitt Peak for the day to tour the Observatory there and enjoy an afternoon of great views.
Back in the late 1950’s the National Science Foundation established a solar observatory in the Quinlan Mountains in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Located on Kitt Peak, it has been a national resource ever since. Susan and Jeff have long wanted to go visit Kitt Peak and so the four of us decided to make a day of it.
Visits to the observatory start in the morning. There are three separate tours. One for each major telescope. Of course, we did all three. They were very informative and well worth the time. Doing the tours allowed us to go into the observatories and actually see and view the telescopes. They close the road in the late afternoon to make sure there are no car headlights interfering with the dark sky. So we were done by 3:00. They also have a night program that is still on our bucket list.
The main telescope is the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. Used for observing the sun, it is currently the largest solar telescope in the world and the largest unobstructed reflector. It is 87 meters deep with the majority underground. They use it to look for and watch for solar flares and anomalies. We were able to go inside and see down the giant reflecting tube and the giant reflecting mirrors. We also visited the viewing room and were treated to an actual view of the sun through the telescope.
Over the years the number of telescopes has increased. During the Apollo Space program, they brought astronauts here to see what their lunar landing areas look like. There have been many famous discoveriesfrom Kitt Peak including the existence of Dark Matter and Supernovas.
We were also treated to some tremendous 360-degree views of the Sonoran Desert and the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation. You could see all the way to Mexico.
It was a fun and educational day. We learned a lot. Enjoyed a fun picnic on top of Kitt Peak with absolutely awesome views. And best of all, spent a great day with wonderful friends.