top of page
The observatory used by the Advanced
Amateur Observing Program at Kitt Peak is located right next to the Visitor Center, and is shown in this daytime photo to the Left.
The large Ash Dome houses a 16-inch SCT complete with a full assortment of premium eyepieces, as well as an SBIG CCD camera
(which was state-of-the-art at the time).
When I arrived at the dome, the nightly "Public Viewing Session" was just wrapping up. These sessions are held every clear evening, and can be reserved in advance via online registration. Each session is limited to 20 attendees. The program starts at around 5 PM in the Visitor Center, with a short video presentation of general astronomy, followed by an introductory talk by the docent during which star maps are handed out.
The visitors then go into the dome and spend the next hour or so observing various objects through the 16-inch telescope. The program concludes just before 9 PM, when the visitors are escorted out of the observatory and to the visitor parking lot. They have to be off the mountain by 9 PM. AFTER THAT, THE SCOPE WAS MINE!
Upon entering the dome, I approached a young fellow who was busy at the control panel of the 16-inch scope. He introduced himself as Adam Block and informed me that he would be my observing assistant for the next two nights. Little did I realize at the time that in less than 10 years Adam would become one of the foremost astronomical photographers in the world! After introducing himself, he asked me what I wanted to accomplish over the next two nights. I told him that my primary interest was to locate and observe the faint galaxies listed in the Herschel 2 catalog, which I had been working on at this time. I had made up an list of targets prior to my trip to Kitt Peak.
When hearing this, I could sense that Adam was mildly disappointed! His first comment was.."oh, so you're a visual guy". I said, yes, but told Adam I also occasionally dabbled in film astrophotography. When he heard this, he perked up a bit, and said "Okay, we're here to help you observe whatever you're interested in, but I'd like you to know that we have a brand new SBIG ST-8 CCD camera complete with filter wheel. Since you have done some astrophotography with film, I'd like to show you what CCD photography can do at some time during your visit, if you can spare an hour or so of observing time."
The rest of the night went very quickly, as we worked our way through my "target" list. The 16" was well-collimated, and with the premium TeleVue eyepieces, it gave spectacular views. Being on top of a 6,000 foot peak with dark skies really made a difference. I was enjoying myself immensely!
During coffee & snack breaks, Adam and I got to know each other. He told me that he had been born in New England, but his family had moved to Georgia when he was a child. After high school, he attended the University of Arizona, earning a B.S. degree in Astronomy & Physics in 1996. As an entry into an astronomical career, he had taken a job with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Kitt Peak to start its public outreach program. At the time of my visit, he had been running the Advanced Observing Program for 2 years.
Adam already had the scope set up for visual work, since he had just finished conducting the nightly viewing session for visitors. The 16-inch Meade LX200 had a 2-inch diagonal and a 31mm Nagler eyepiece installed, which gave a magnification of 130 power, along with a wide field. We were soon at work, locating and observing the Herschel Objects on my target list. Time went by very quickly. We took a "lunch" break in the Astronomers Dining Room at about 1 a.m., and another coffee break at 3:00. By the time the sky was beginning to lighten at 6 o'clock the next morning, I was exhausted but very happy. I had already made it over half way through my "target list". When Adam reviewed my progress, he seemed happy, and said "looks like you'll be able to spend some time tomorrow night getting an introduction to CCD imaging." I headed back to my dorm room with a sense of satisfaction. I knew I would sleep well!
bottom of page