OBSERVING AT KITT PEAK - Part One

In late 1998, I learned that as a result of my job, I would be in Tucson, Arizona in January of 1999. I had been reading in various astronomy publications including Sky & Telescope Magazine about a new program started at Kitt Peak National Observatory called "The Avanced Observing Program". This program allowed an amateur astronomer such as myself to spend a night on Kitt Peak, observing through one of their telescopes with the assistance of a staff member. On the Kitt Peak website, I learned that the cost of this program was very attractive: In 1998 it was only $200 per night, plus $75 for room & meals at the same dormitory used by visiting professional astronomers. What an opportunity! As soon as I found out the dates of my Tucson trip the following year, I immediately logged onto the Kitt Peak website to try to reserve 2 nights of observing. The next week I was thrilled to receive an email from Kitt Peak informing me that my reservation was confirmed. I WAS ACTUALLY GOING TO SPEND 2 NIGHTS OBSERVING ON KITT PEAK!!

      Fast forward to January of 1999. I had concluded my business in Tucson, and the weekend was approaching. With mounting excitement, I checked out of my hotel room in Tucson and took Arizona State Highway 86 west out of Tucson. About 45 miles west I reached the turnoff for Kitt Peak and began the 8 mile winding ascent to the summit. Upon reaching the summit, I checked in at the Visitor Center, where a guide escorted me to my room at the Visiting Astronomer Dormitory. He informed me that after I had settled in, I was free to stop back at the Visitor Center and wait for one of their guided tours of the domes on the summit. I learned that I would be using the observatory that is attached to the Visitor Center, and that it would not be available until after the "Public Viewing" session for the evening concluded at around 9 PM. He also informed me that the dining room would be open for dinner starting at 5 PM, and that I was free to go there to eat at any time after that.

      After unpacking and freshening up, I walked from my dorm back to the visitor center, where a guided tour of one of the observatories was supposed to start at 2 PM.  Our guide told us that today we would be touring the 84-inch telescope. Although this scope is now the 4th largest on the mountain, it is historic in being the first large telescope that was constructed at Kitt Peak, having seen "first light" in 1964.

Kitt Peak 84inch 2010.jpg
The dome of the 84-inch is located just up the hill from the dining facility, and was just a short walk from the Visitor Center.
    At the time of our tour, a technician was busy installing some instruments at the cassegrain focus of the telescope, using a hydraulically raised platform. This operation is shown in the photo to the right.
    It was very interesting to actually be inside the dome of this large telescopes while it was being prepared for the upcoming observations that evening. After touring this facility, we took a leisurely walk around the peak, inspecting the exteriors of the other domes. The last stop on the tour was the observation gallery on the 12th floor of the dome of the 4-meter Mayall Telescope, the largest scope on the mountain. From this gallery, you can see all of the domes on the mountain, as well as the McMath solar telescope, which is the largest in the world. Very impressive!
    After drinking in this spectacular view, we made our way back to the Visitor Center.
    It was now getting closer to the dinner hour, and I was excited because I was about to have another opportunity to add to my astronomical experiences!