The Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) is a United States astronomical observatory located on Kitt Peak of the Quinlan Mountains in the Arizona-Sonoran Desert on the Tohono O’odham Nation, 88 kilometers (55 mi) west-southwest of Tucson, Arizona. With 22 optical and two radio telescopes, it is the largest, most diverse gathering of astronomical instruments in the northern hemisphere. The observatory is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).
Kitt Peak was selected by its first director, Aden B. Meinel, in 1958 as the site for a national observatory under contract with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was administered by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. The land was leased from the Tohono O’odham under a perpetual agreement. The second director (1960 to 1971) was Nicholas U. Mayall. In 1982 NOAO was formed to consolidate the management of three optical observatories — Kitt Peak; the National Solar Observatory facilities at Kitt Peak and Sacramento Peak, New Mexico; and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. The observatory sites are under lease from the Tohono O’odham Nation at the amount of a quarter dollar per acre yearly, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Council in the 1950s. In 2005, the Tohono O’odham Nation brought suit against the National Science Foundation to stop further construction of gamma ray detectors in the Gardens of the Sacred Tohono O’odham Spirit I’itoi, which are just below the summit.
The largest optical instruments at KPNO are the Mayall 4 meter telescope and the WIYN 3.5 meter telescope; there are also several two- and one-meter class telescopes. The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope is currently the largest solar telescope in the world and the largest unobstructed reflector (it doesn’t have a secondary mirror in the path of incoming light). The ARO 12m Radio Telescope is also at the location.
Kitt Peak is famous for hosting the first telescope (an old 91 cm reflector) used to search for near-Earth asteroids, and calculating the probability of an impact with planet Earth.
Kitt Peak hosts an array of programs for the public to take part in, including:
- Daytime tours, speaking about the history of the observatory as well as touring a major research telescope.
- The Nightly Observing Program (NOP), which allows visitors to arrive in the late afternoon, watch the sunset, and use binoculars and telescopes to view the cosmos.
- Additionally, there is the Overnight Telescope Observing Program (OTOP). This program allows for a one-on-one, full night of observing using any of the visitor center’s telescopes. Guests may choose to do DSLR imaging, CCD imaging, or simply take in the sights with their eye to the telescope.
Kitt Peak’s Southeastern Association for Research and Astronomy (SARA) Telescope was featured in the WIPB-PBS documentary, “Seeing Stars in Indiana”. The project followed SARA astronomers from Ball State University to the observatory and featured time-lapse images from various points around Kitt Peak.
Overview of some of the telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory
|Organization||National Optical Astronomy Observatory|
|Location||Kitt Peak, Arizona, US|
|Altitude||2,096 m (6,877 ft)|
|Observing time||260 nights per year|
- National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). “Kitt Peak National Observatory”.
- “Astronomy development on another sacred mountain: Kitt Peak”.
- The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will become the largest upon completion.
- “The Spacewatch Project”. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
- “Kitt Peak Visitor Center Tours, Stargazing, Programs, and Exhibits”.
- Kevin Grazioli. “Seeing Stars in Indiana”. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
- Seeing Stars In Indiana (Adobe Flash Player). 2011. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
- “Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Information”. Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved December 6, 2014.
- Discover Magazine article about Kitt Peak, May 2005
- Kitt Peak docent training book, 2008
- Kitt Peak National Observatory – official site
- Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Center – visiting and tour information
- Kitt Peak Webcam
- Kitt Peak Clear Sky Chart Forecasts of observing conditions
- NOAA general forecast for KPNO
- NOAA detailed forecast for KPNO
- Observing At Kitt Peak – General Overview for Observers and Staff