Touring Some of Tucson’s Local Observatories

Since 1972, the City of Tucson has maintained outdoor lighting ordinances designed to preserve one of the area’s most valuable resources: its flawless, dark night skies. The Tucson area’s uniquely dry climate features exceptional astronomical “seeing,” offering minimal atmospheric interference and stunning images of stars, nebulae, and galaxies due to the inherent stability of dry air. Today, Tucson is home to some of the most widely-used astronomical observatories in the American Southwest, drawing professional and amateur astronomers alike to view the skies from the unique vantage point of the Sonoran Desert.

Kitt Peak National Observatory

Kitt Peak is one of Tucson’s most famous observatories. Established in 1958 on land perpetually leased from the Tohono O’odham Nation and shared with the National Solar Observatory’s McMath-Pierce Telescope, Kitt Peak hosts primarily small optical telescopes that range in size from 0.4m to 4m in diameter. Kitt Peak is also the home of two radio telescopes, including the ARO 12m Radio Telescope. One of the observatory’s major claims to fame is its standing as the first observatory to dedicate a telescope to the search for near-Earth asteroids—this is done for the purpose of calculating the probability of a future impact event. In addition to its numerous dedicated scientific telescope installations, Kitt Peak’s Nightly Observing Program teaches visitors how to read star charts and view night sky objects with binoculars, and also lets participants catch a glimpse of several astronomical objects through either a 16” or 20” research-grade telescope.

Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

The Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory is part of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); it is currently the largest field installation outside of the SAO’s main site in Cambridge, MA. Since 1968, the Whipple Observatory has pioneered work in the field of ground-based gamma ray observing with its 10-meter gamma ray telescope, which was in service for 40 years before its decommissioning. Among its current complement of telescopes, the Whipple Observatory operates the 6.5-meter MMT telescope, the PAIRITEL telescope, and the VERITAS gamma ray observatory. At the base of Mt. Hopkins, atop which the observatory resides, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory Visitors Center features a variety of displays, models, and exhibits that focus not only on the scientific achievements and goals of the observatory, but also on the area’s role in Native American history and culture.

Mt. Lemmon Observatory & SkyCenter

The 9,157-foot summit of Mt. Lemmon is one of the best locations near Tucson to view the night sky. Developed in 1954, the Mt. Lemmon Observatory maintains several independently-managed optical and near-infrared telescopes alongside the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory and the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter. Much of the work achieved by this observatory has focused on solar system objects, including research on asteroids and comets. The Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter is also the home of the largest telescope dedicated to public viewing in the state: the 32” Schulman Telescope, which is available for use privately and during the SkyCenter’s popular SkyNights public viewing program.

The beautiful night skies are just one of the many aspects of Tucson that we love here at Student Experts. However, we are ready to help businesses no matter where they are located. To learn about our services, including blog creation and infographic design, contact us today.