A visit to Kitt’s Observatory

 

It was a fairly long drive from Phoenix. Though we were initially amused by the unique red rock formations on either sides of the freeway and the vast and seemingly never-ending landscapes, it got a bit monotonous. At some point of time, when we were about an hour away from Kitt’s, we saw the observatory perched up high above the mountains. The bright white color of the observatory stood out amongst the crisp brown mountains, large green cacti growing on the mountain slopes and the clear blue sky.

The road up to Kitt’s observatory was just like the road to any other observatory – narrow and serpentine. Though the weather was scorching in Phoenix, it was a bit nippy and brisk in Kitt’s. Luckily I borrowed a jacket from my friend.

Inside the Visitor Center
Inside the Visitor Center
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After paying for a guided tour inside the Visitor Center, I saw a penny machine, picked my favorite image and put in a penny. I kept winding the roller over and over again and nothing came out of the penny machine. The docent came by, unscrewed the case, fixed it and I tried it again. Out came a nice, elongated piece of copper and zinc.

On the way to Solar Viewing
On the way to Solar Viewing

When we walked out of the Visitor Center, we saw signs to “Solar Viewing” and followed the directions. Right about the time when we thought we had lost our way, a docent came out of a small enclosure said that we were indeed at the right place. He led us inside a small room, where two telescopes were arranged, pointing to the sun.

One of the telescopes revealed the sunspots and the other one, the prominence around the sun. Like little kids, we got up on the small ladder to see through the eyepiece. There it was, the big orange ball, the sun! The docent started talking about the health of the sun and it sounded like Greek and Latin to me. “The sun has a health?” was going on inside my mind.

The docent even mentioned about a recent incident in the space that might have destroyed all the telecommunications. Being so disconnected from the day-to-day things happening around the Earth, it sometimes is really hard to imagine that a world-wide black-out like what we’ve seen in the movies could have actually happened.

Oh well, I guess I would have welcomed it for a day or two; would have given me lots of time to catch up with sleep and relax and do literally nothing.

We then took the guided tour to see the 2.1 meter telescope. The docent who appeared to have a bad hair day was extremely knowledge. She was so passionate about astronomy that hairdo was probably the last thing she ever has as a priority.

By the end of the tour, it felt like an information overload. I don’t remember half of it, but I certainly found it very intuitive and informative

A long triangular structure nearby piqued our interest and we walked over. It was solar viewing telescope.

Solar Viewing Telescope
Solar Viewing Telescope
Solar Viewing Station
Solar Viewing Station

We also wanted to see the biggest telescope in Kitt’s, the 4.1. While driving towards the 4.1, we realized there was no parking nearby and making a U-turn on those narrow roads was going to be a challenge. I asked “Do you guys really wanna go?” The response was “Na, let’s go to Biosphere; we are already running late”. “Alrighty”, and we drove to the Biosphere.

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