Updated: 21 March 2009
On 20 March 2009, my wife, Laurraine, and I, along with several alumni and staff from Indiana University, had the opportunity for a fifth (!) special visit to the Kitt Peak National Observatory, courtesy of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences (my alma mater). We first got a "behind-the-scenes" look at the Mayall 4-meter telescope. We then had a talk on WIYN and the One Degree Imager (ODI) and dinner. Next, we visited the WIYN 0.9 meter telescope. We capped off the night by viewing several objects through the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope (yes, the telescope has an 11.5-foot diameter mirror!) prior to the start of formal research by the staff and astronomers.
Kitt Peak National Observatory is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year:
First up was the visit to the Mayall 4m telescope:
This view is from just outside the 4m dome, looking up:
The view of the mountain observatories from the base of the 4m dome is nice (see photo immediately below), but the view from the catwalk at the top of the dome is spectacular (see second photo below):
Here is a diagram of the Mayall 4m observatory:
We were then escorted inside the dome. Instrument calibrations were underway for the night's observing, so there was very little illumination inside the dome and no flash photography was allowed. The following photos taken with my Nikon D70 DSLR were long exposures (several seconds) and handheld. Image processing was done in Apple's Aperture software.
This is the control room for the 4 meter telescope. It looks somewhat archaic compared to modern control rooms.
We then took the elevator down beneath the telescope:
We first saw the mirror aluminizing tank:
As our last stop, we then went into the pier room for the 4-meter telescope mount:
We adjourned to the Kitt Peak dining hall for a presentation and dinner. Caty Pilachowski, (currently) Chair of the IU Department of Astronomy (right), is seen here introducing the speaker, Dr. Pierre Martin, Director of WIYN (left):
Sunset was really nice:
Here is the WIYN 3.5 observatory, earlier in the day:
And here is the WIYN 3.5m telescope at sunset, open for business:
We posed for a group shot, with WIYN in the background (top):
Jeff Stuckey, of the College of Arts and Sciences, took the group photo. He is the guy who pulls everything together to make these special visits to Kitt Peak possible. However, he is camera-shy:
We had an honored guest during this visit to Kitt Peak. Bennett Bertenthal, Dean of the IU College of Arts and Sciences, was able to join us for his first trip to Kitt Peak:
We stopped by the WIYN 0.9m telescope for a short visit:
Then it was down the road to the WIYN 3.5m telescope. WIYN was dedicated in 1994, as seen in this dedication plaque:
We passed through the WIYN control room on our way up to the observing floor:
Here is a diagram of the WIYN 3.5m observatory:
On the observing floor we had some time to look at the telescope:
The first object looked at through the 3.5m telescope was M42, the Great Nebula in Orion. We could easily see the Trapezium star configuration, as well as some nebulosity in the center of M42 (we were using a very high magnification). As an experiment, I tried a photo with the camera on my Apple iPhone:
Not too bad!
We tried for the Horsehead Nebula in Orion but it was not sufficiently visible with the magnification we had (phooey). But we did get a nice look at M1, the Crab Nebula; lots of filaments were visible. Then it was a look at the planet, Saturn. Once again, I tried a photo with my iPhone:
Wow! Yes, it is way overexposed (no camera exposure controls and no filter available); but you can see the planet's disk, the rings of Saturn, and three of Saturn's moons. Here is a chart of Saturn's moons from Sky and Telescope:
Here is a cropped image of the same iPhone photo with the view we saw in the telescope. If you look closely, you will see the moon Dione next to the planet's disk and Enceladus above it so close to the ring that there is only a suggestion of its presence just to the left of the ring:
We then looked at the galaxy, M82. Considerable structure was visible; lots of stars and dust in the galaxy. Next was M95, a nice barred spiral galaxy. We could see the bar and the ring! Our last object was NGC3242, the Ghost of Jupiter. This is a VERY IMPRESSIVE deep sky object when viewed through a 3.5 meter telescope! The color was brilliant and the detail was amazing.
For some attendees, this was their first trip to Kitt Peak and WIYN. For some of us, this was our fifth opportunity since 2002 to look through the WIYN 3.5m telescope. All the attendees, no matter how many times they have been there, really enjoyed the visit, the views, and the people on the mountain. Thanks once again to Jeff Stuckey for sponsoring the event and to the IU Department of Astronomy and the WIYN staff for a very memorable experience!
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