Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kitt Peak Open House!

Most of you know, or should know that Kitt Peak National Observatory is on land owned by the Tohono O'odham Nation. In addition to the modest lease paid, they also buy their electrical power from the tribe, offer crafts for sale at the visitor center, and give priority employment to qualified members of the tribe. Every few years they offer an open house as an opportunity to let members know what is happening at the research institution, as well as offer craft displays, music and food to help educate non-Indians.

Organizers invited the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association to assist in setting up a few scopes.  When I informed a few folks at the Mirror Lab about the opportunity, we filled the allotment with ML people, who jumped at the chance to look through an eyepiece on the 3.5 meter WIYN telescope, which was polished in the Lab back in the 90s. The image at left shows Roger setting up his homebuilt 8" refractor, my C14, and Melinda with visiting buddy Lynn supervising from the comfy chairs.

Upon our arrival, while stretching our legs, we found wildlife nearby! For some reason in the Spring and Summer in Arizona, ladybird beetles seek the highest elevation in the mountains, and they were found Saturday in piles around the base of the .9 meter telescope near where we set up. I recall from my working days at the Observatory that we sometimes had drifts of them 4" thick that you could shovel. They weren't quite that numerous this time, but it was fun to see and easy to take a macro shot or two of their clusters. I also recall hiking the neighboring Coyote Peak to the Observatory's east, never seeing a single ladybug all morning till we got within a couple meters of the top, when they suddenly got so thick you could barely breathe! Certainly they must be sensitive to temperature, so seek the coolest environment, but so far as I can read, the reason for their massing is unknown.

We jumped at the chance to visit the scopes adjacent to us before it got dark. The 36" telescope whose parking lot we were set up in, is now known as the WIYN 0.9 Meter Telescope, run by the same consortium as the WIYN.  The telescope is an interesting mishmash of the optics from the very first telescope atop the mountain in '59, and the mounting of one built on this spot in 1965. It is the classic-looking design of Boller and Chivens, which made dozens of similarly largish scopes for universities and research institutions in the '50s and '60s. The University of Iowa had a 24" version that looked identical in design. The .9 meter is shown at left, the warm room, from where the observer works can be seen in the background.

At right was the main reason we came - the beautiful WIYN Telescope, its 3.5 meter mirror cast and polished at the Mirror Lab in the late 80s, early 90s. Its mounting is of ALT-AZ design - the optical assembly moves up-down in the vertical forks, which rotate with the building in azimuth. The field-of-view rotates in this type of mounting, so the instrument is mounted on a rotator near where Roger is peering through the eyepiece at Jupiter, visible even in the daytime during our visit. This shot is a mosaic of 6 frames to get all of the telescope visible in a single view...

One more shot of the WIYN scope if you can tolerate it. Before we headed down for a food run, Melinda's friend Lynn posed in front of the telescope for me. It was pointed lower here, and the 3.5 meter mirror (140" diameter) was easily seen. The light comes in through the front, hitting the concave primary mirror, comes up towards the secondary mirror behind the black cover on top, which directs it back down off the flat mirror in front of the primary to the left where the instrument, or in this case, the eyepiece is located.

We headed down to the main parking lot in search of food, and found live music - rarely seen or heard at the Observatory!  We heard it on and off all night - a curious mixture of Mexican ranchero and polka music, and when we passed there were quite a number of dancers, shown at right. There were nearly a half dozen food vendors, nearly all selling their own version of the Indian fry bread taco, served open face, a good 11" diameter with beans meat (if desired) sprinkled with a little cheese. The fry bread is made up when ordered and is crispy, fresh and hot and the result was a tasty treat that stuffed me, and Melinda was only able to eat part of hers...

By the time we gorged ourselves, sunset was drawing near - I decided to break out the William Optics 11cm refractor to shoot both the nearly full Moon rising in the east, as well as the setting sun in the west. There was a low haze layer - there have been some controlled burns in the area, and that might have been the cause. The result was that I didn't need a filter to shoot the sun that low, just a fast shutter, a 4,000th second in this case(ISO 100). The moon, in clearer air, needed a 600th second (ISO 200).

Before long, we were busy, showing folks view of Venus and Jupiter even as the sun was setting.  Before long Mercury became visible, and a peek at it revealed a little crescent, since it is near greatest elongation. With the Full Moon, we didn't look at many stellar targets, but it was fun to shoot observatory landscapes, since the domes could be seen in a couple second exposures. At left is a shot across the mountain to the 4-meter telescope. They had the interior lights on, since they likely had visitors on the telescope floor. You can also see other open domes that were likely hosting tour groups. At right was a shot of the WIYN dome and the "Little Dome" with its 16" for public observing. Seen behind both is the setting constellation Orion, to the right of the dome is the bright star Aldebaran, and continuing right over the tree is Mercury.

Keeping strictly to schedule, we were told to start packing up about 8:30 and we were on our way home before 9:30.  So a relatively early evening for us.  Gretchen and Lynn had a good time, and while we wore out Melinda, she got through it ok.  And I got to cross of viewing Jupiter with WIYN from my bucket list!


steven said...

Hi! I'm an avid reader of your blog and love the photos. I'm a grad student at Indiana University, and a regular observer at the 0.9m and WIYN 3.5m (and have also had the extraordinary privilege to look through that eyepiece!). But I wanted to point out that the old warm room up in the 0.9m dome is not actually used for any of the telescope operation any more. It's mostly just a storage room (and a lovely 8" dob lives in there that I take out sometimes while observing, for some eyepiece fun). The main control area is downstairs -- when you first walk in, go straight instead of turning and going up the stairs to the dome.

But thanks for always sharing such wonderful and interesting photographs and everything!

Dean said...

Thanks Steven! Even as was writing it, I suspected the observing room had been moved downstairs, but since the room and window could be seen, I pointed it out. When I worked there ('79-'84), the telescope level warm room was brand new... -Dean