Saturday, July 04, 2009
July 3, 2009: Day Trip To Kitt Peak
Kitt Peak and Dinner at the Feast (Tucson)
Fran was understanding enough of my interest in astronomy … and I think a little curious herself to agree to drive to Kitt Peak today. Kitt Peak is a mountain southwest of Tucson that was selected 50 years ago out of 1,000 potential sites to be the location where the National Science Foundation would put a national observatory. Formally known as the “Kitt Peak National Observatory” (KPNO), part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). NAOA has three facilities … KPNO plus a facility in Hawaii and one in Chile. These three facilities are run by a consortia of universities including the University of Arizona. The KPNO web site: http://www.noao.edu/kpno/
We made a day trip out of it leaving Phoenix at 9AM and getting to KPNO a little after 1PM with a short stop for lunch and a long mountain climb by car to 6400 feet elevation. We arrived shortly before their 1:30PM tour of the 4 meter Mayall telescope that was one of the original scopes used back in 1970. Today’s telescopes use something called adaptive optics to help manage the shape of the mirror as temperatures change and the angle of inclination changes. Adaptive optics use little computer controlled actuators to put pressure on the backs of the mirror to change its shape ever so slightly and allowing it to retain its perfect reflecting shape. Back when the Mayall mirror was built adaptive optics did not exist so they needed to build the mirror as big and and as rigid as the state of the art allowed. So, the mirror … it is 158 inches across and weighs about 12 tons! But now picture that the mirror has to tilt and rotate to look at different parts of the sky and it has to be accurate to a millionth of an inch! So they had to design a 300 ton monster of a table to sit the mirror on and this is the way they have operated it for 40 years. Then they had to drag all that equipment to the top of Kitt Peak ... unbelievable feat!
Another little "factoid" ... KPNO has a million gallon water tank on top of the mountain ... that explains why they have flush toilets! The neat thing about it is behind the visitor parking lot they have a BIG concrete cone that collects rainwater that runs to a collector and is then filtered and treated for storage and use on the mountain. It also comes in really handy in case there is a fire.
So after a two hour tour of the Mayall telescope and a walk around part of the mountain top we headed into Tucson for dinner. I had looked up on “TripAdvisor.com” for a suggested restaurant and the top rated restaurant was a place called “Feast” on Speedway Boulevard. We made it there and had a very nice meal and spent time with Megan … I think … the owner or manager who also waited on our table. Tucson is more a laid back atmosphere than Phoenix and this was certainly the case at the Feast. It was very tastefully decorated and equipped and I could tell from the clientele that came in while we were sitting and how they interacted with the staff that it had a very high percentage of regular customers.