A little late with this post - almost 3 weeks! Well, I've been busy... I was able to make the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association monthly meeting on 7 October, and brought my camera along to take some shots of the slides - both for my own memory, and document on the blog for those who might have missed it to see some of it too.
I had an out-of-town visitor, so missed the beginner's lecture, but really wanted to attend the main lecture - Katy Garmany, Emeritus Scientist talking about the history of Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Tohono O'odham Nation, on whose land it resides! Now I'm a sucker for that sort of thing after 5 years on staff back in the early '80s, docent in the early '90s, and until recently a guide on the night time public observing sessions the last 5 years. It is what brought me to AZ in the first place and is my absolute favorite place in Southern Arizona. A talk on the history and the O'odham homeland - naturally I wouldn't miss it! At left is Katy awaiting the start of the lecture, and at right is her title slide showing the view of Kitt Peak from "the wrong side", from near Sells, capital of the reservation.
She started from the very beginning, back to the National Science Foundation's mandate for a national observatory, and the search by Aden Meinel and Helmut Abt to find a location. At left is shown the sites that were eventually identified and investigated through Arizona. She also showed the note from Helmut Abt's notebook indicating that Kitt Peak appeared to be a good site (from his airplane over-flights) and deserved further exploration. For the first time I learned the astronomers asked permission to climb Kitt Peak twice and were refused both times!
Then, as the legend tells us, tribe representatives visited the 36" telescope on the UA campus to examine the sky and learn a little about what astronomers do. It was after that visit that Meinel was granted permission to climb the mountain. And as the illustration at right shows, Katy's husband John Glaspey located the original movie reels in the NOAO basement a few years back!
After a failed attempt by Meinel and Abt to climb the mountain on 6 January, 1956, accompanying Meinel and Harold Thompson on 14 March were O'odham guides Al Martinez and Raymond Lopez, along with newspaper reporter Clifford Abbott. NOAO also supports a page of images from the first ascent. A night-time view from that first ascent is shown at left. I'm not sure any of the film images from the movie appear there, or if they were taken with other cameras or from the newspaper reporter than accompanied them. The movie is a true AZ time capsule from 60 years ago! The introductory scenes show the trip out Ajo Way, little more than a 2-lane road in those days. Road signs for 7-up and Old Tucson mark the last place to fill up for fuel before heading across the desert! John Glaspey has allowed me to upload it to Youtube for you to watch it. Note that there is no sound, just images from the original 16mm film taken on that first ascent up the mountaintop that eventually became the home to Kitt Peak National Observatory...
While the short movie was the highlight
for me, Katy went on to explain the interactions of the Observatory and the tribe, including employment, lease agreements, craft sales and continuing education utilizing observatory staff on the reservation. Also presented were some of the cultural beliefs of the O'odham and some of the sky stories she knew about. Over the decades, the relationship of the Observatory and tribe has not always been smooth - she relates the story of the failed attempt to locate the VERITAS gamma ray telescope array on the mountain as example. In recent years though, former Kitt Peak director Buell Jannuzi has worked to strengthen relations. She noted also that Kitt Peak is no longer a true National Observatory as NSF has pulled money away for other projects and many of the telescopes are now operated by consortiums. It appears though that while no longer available to astronomers on a competitive basis (how the National Observatory was run for 50 years), it will continue to be a front-edge research facility.
She closed by informing us how we can become educated in the ways of the Tohono O'odham, and suggests the visits in the slide at left. It is a shame that a visit to Kitt Peak, on the eastern edge of the reservation, doesn't expose us to more of the culture and facilities located 20 miles beyond Kitt Peak in Sells and beyond...
After questions the meeting was concluded by a planet report from Erich Karchoshka (at right)- always interesting because he indicates alignments, occultations and appearances that we might not be aware of.
And that was the October, 2016 TAAA meeting!