Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Time on Kitt Peak with the Boys!

I'm way late blogging about the trip up to Kitt Peak with Ken and Stan, visiting from New York, and Mike, who also works up there part time. It will be 4 weeks on Wednesday, so a lot of water under the bridge! This was the day after our trip up to Mount Graham and the LBT, so was our second tour date and late night observing. I had made arrangements for us to stay up after hours, and Stan had met a solar astronomer the week before in New York City and had a killer tour of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope arranged for us!

We started out in the observing room under ground level. I've known Detrick for years, and he gave a great tour! I'm not sure of his observing program, but he had all three telescopes open, perhaps for our benefit! In the picture at left he is shown at left with Stan at center and Ken at right. Here his is showing off an observing station at the focus of the East Auxiliary telescope, taking images in the near infrared. Detrick's tour was pretty involved - taking us places I've never seen even in my 5+ years of working there! At right, Ken peeks from under the floor panels as they examine details or the main spectrograph tank.

From the observing room we exited outside momentarily, then down the stairs to the entrance to the aluminizing room where the mirrors for the solar scopes, as well as the smaller stellar telescopes are re-coated every couple years. From there is was a few steps to the inside of the solar telescope, right next to the beams of sunlight reflected around the enclosure. At left, Detrick, Ken and Stan are standing adjacent to the concave mirror of the west auxiliary telescope. From a flat atop the structure shining sunlight down, the focused beam is folded down to the observing room with the flat just above Ken's head. In the image at right, taken further up the enclosure, all three heliostat flats atop the structure can be seen in the sunlight. Spotted in the darkness are the three flat mirrors that direct the beam to the observing room. The concave collecting mirrors are located down the enclosure behind me, particularly the main 1.5 meter diameter mirror, which has a huge focal length of 83 meters, providing an image of the sun about 80cm diameter. Realize that the 1.5 meter mirror (60 inch) focused to a .8 meter (30 inches) diameter solar image, the sun's image is only about 4 times brighter than native sunlight - no setting things on fire in the lab!

As I had hoped, Detrick brought us up the long flight of stairs to the top of the telescope! I hadn't been up there since working there in the early 80s, and was surprised how nervous I was at the exposure.  The nearly 30mph winds didn't help, but it was a nice view! At left is shown a 4 frame IR mosaic of the mountaintop. Shooting up sun, there were some nasty lens flare, that I partially fixed, but a few artifacts remain. It is a nice broad panorama, showing the major scopes from the 2.1 meter at upper left, the WIYN just beyond, to the UA 90" and the 4 meter telescope at far right.

As it was approaching dinner, we climbed down the stairs and took a few shots from the base of the solar telescope. At left, Mike is in the foreground, with Ken photographing us from afar. As we headed towards the kitchen, I turned to shoot the guys coming down the road from solar. Here at right the overall structure of the telescope can be seen. The heliostats atop the structure divert sunlight down the slanted section to the collecting optics below - where I took the earlier photographs above. By collecting the sunlight atop a tall structure, it is less affected by seeing effects from the warm ground. As if you couldn't tell, these images were both taken with the infrared-filtered camera, with the white vegetation and darkened sky.

After a lovely dinner, we took a walk up to the south ridge, adjacent to the .9 meter telescope. It is one of the best views atop the mountain, particularly towards the 4 meter scope. At left I took a shot of the intrepid photographers with the 4 meter in the background (another IR shot!). At dinner we had gotten permission from the public observing program to join them for the sunset, so as the time approached walked to that overlook to join in. It was little hazy, but a nice sunset, as shown at right with a 300mm lens.

We also had the ok to stay after the Nightly Observing Program to use the 20" telescope for a little observing. It worked out great as the moon would set about the time the program wrapped up at 10:30 or so. Observing conditions were great, especially after moonset, but before that happened, while waiting I took the image at left of the 4 meter and UA 90" to its left. Above the 4 meter is the North Star, Polaris, and the Little Dipper can be traced to its upper right. This was only a 30 second exposure with a 20mm lens. We observed visually with the 20" for a few hours, mostly concentrating on springtime galaxies and the rising globular clusters. While the sky was great, with our second late night in a row, we didn't do an all-nighter, but didn't get back to Tucson till about 3am. Still, a great time hanging out with the buddies!

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