Kitt Peak

Tucson, Arizona

Our “campground” in Tucson was literally a small city of aluminum and fiberglass homes.  Some with wheels, some with the wheels removed or hidden… in other words, lots of “mobile homes” that aren’t really mobile anymore.  But there were still tons of RV’s: there were more than 1,000 units total in this place. It was all very nice, but a bit too much like a city!

There was even a large scale model train setup!




The Tucson SDA church is pastored by long time friend Jim Brauer. A really wonderful “Grace Filled” church!


Jim and Janell came to our “house” Saturday evening.  We had a nice dinner and a great time catching up.  Jim told me about the Kitt Observatory, so we headed up there next…



Kitt Peak National Observatory

Space exploration was all the rage in the 1950’s… and the need/desire for telescopes to investigate the heavens was huge.  All the country’s telescopes were held by universities or privately.  Many European nations had national telescopes, so it was time we (the USA) got one!  This mountain peak about an hour outside of Tucson, Arizona was chosen for the dry weather, high elevation, distance from light pollution and many other reasons. The first telescopes were built here in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  Now there are twenty some telescopes on the peak.  We spent a whole day touring the fascinating telescopes!  There are great night tours, where you could see more than just pictures of what these scopes record, but the tours are booked up quite a ways out. On our next trip through this area we will reserve long ahead to include some super star gazing!

The only sad note is that I seem to have lost all my “real camera” pictures of Kitt Peak.  Sigh.  So you get a few iPhone pictures…

This is the view from the 4 meter telescope.  It is currently attempting to create a 3D map of the visible universe!  It can run a spectral analysis on up to 5,000 stars every 15 minutes; this would previously take individual astronomers years! With this analysis they can decide the composition of the star, and its distance from us and the direction it is moving. The goal is to have all the stars in the northern hemisphere mapped in a 3D model within 5 years… and then to continue with the same apparatus in an observatory in Chile to do the southern hemisphere.


The names of all the telescopes are on this map… too bad you can’t read them!


Inside the massive dome of the 4 meter telescope.


This is inside the 2.1 meter telescope, the first major optical telescope on Kitt Peak.  One fascinating thing about this instrument is how they “fine tuned” it: they shoot a laser light into the night sky, and create a “false star”. They then analyze its image.  Since they know what it should look like, any interference from the atmosphere that distorts the image can be corrected, giving more accurate images of everything else.  Pretty cool.


The most unusual telescope is the McMath-Pierce Solar telescope.  Its design is quite unique – one of only a few in the world.  It was created for spectroscopic measurements of the sun, and can see farther into the infrared than any other scope in the world.

Below is a model of its construction: a tall pillar holds three mirrors.  These mirrors reflect the light down a long shaft; two hundred feet long above ground, and three hundred feet below ground.  The light is then bounced back up to the mid point, where it is sent sideways through prisms to create a spectrograph 70 feet long!


This is looking up at the junction of the tower and the 200 feet of above ground shaft.


This is from the midpoint, looking up and out to the sky.


This is looking down from the midpoint, to the mirror on the bottom of the shaft.


This is the control room for the Solar telescope.  There are some computers that help align mirrors and things… state of the art, for 1960.  All of 64K memory!


Here is a spectral image just displayed on the wall.

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This massive Solar telescope is now decommissioned.  It will soon be converted into a museum.


This is taken through a heavily filtered scope looking at the sun.  You can see a solar protuberance on the top left.



Our last night in Tucson we had dinner in a cute little Mexican cafe called Seis.  Yes, six.  The name came from 6 very special dishes they are proud of.  Or something like that.  Anyway, the food was really great and the open air dining a lot of fun.



Next stop: The Grand Canyon.  Stay tuned!





  1. You are headed in the right direction…maybe we’ll see you yet! How about meeting in Death Valley next spring?

    • We were planning on coming through your way… but we’ve decided to skip California and Washington for now. When do you want to do Death Valley? Tomorrow?

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