Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Dean with the 4-meter
Last week I visited Tucson, Arizona for an astronomy conference called Project Astro.  As part of the conference I had the pleasure of visiting the National Optical Astronomy Observatory on Kitt Peak.  But there is not just one dome and one telescope atop this mountain - there are 19 optical telescopes and 2 radio telescopes which dot the top of the ridge over 6500 feet above sea level. 

As part of the tour I saw their largest scope, the Mayall 4 meter.  The researchers were getting ready for a night of observing but were nice enough to show how the roof opened and rotated and even moved the telescope down to where we could see the huge mirror.  It was a little eerie how quiet everything moved.  Seeing a hundred ton object moving silently toward you was like watching a building lean over.

Looking up the solar tunnel

I also got to see inside their great solar observatory, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.  This odd-shaped building was designed to capture and analyze sunlight and I was able to peer down the tunnel that continues into the mountain itself.

Reaching new heights
Finally when I returned to Cincinnati, we needed to do some maintenance to our dome.  It seemed so much smaller than the domes at Kitt Peak so I volunteered to climb up.  I'll tell you, it was a real rush sitting atop a dome with 1/16 of an inch of steel holding me above the old telescope (and the hard flood below).  The life of an astronomer - travel, adventure, and a little danger too...