Friday, August 22, 2008

Stars and more stars!

I have been so ensconced with the Olympics that I’ve neglected speaking about the special features of the Tucson high desert area, of southern Arizona, as I’ve promised. I was reminded of that last night as my sweet little Misha and I took our late evening stroll. The stars – oh my, the stars! They outshone (outshined?) the stars of the Olympics!

The skies here are so clear that the stars reach out begging you to just reach up and touch them, they are so big and bright! This is proven by the number of astronomy centers in the mountains hereabouts, for what is considered our beneficial extremely dark skies, dry climate, and good "optical seeing.”

In the Santa Rita Mountains is the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, the largest field installation of the Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory.

Located at the top of Mt Hopkins at 8550 feet, about 35 miles southeast of Tucson, the exhibits include models of the original 4.5-meter and converted 6.5-meter
Multiple Mirror Telescope.

Last time I toured the facility, I believe there were 17 various types of telescopes and measuring tools. I took this shot into one of the marvelous mirror scopes about 12 years ago. I was standing on a platform about 75 feet from the thing (??) and looking into it, I was upside down - was quite surprised when the photo showed me right side up. The telescope was, I think 50 some feet across.

The drive up the mountain is a great way to start the tour.
It’s one way only at a time, it’s so narrow and winding. And there are no guard rails! But the views, when you can dare open your eyes, are spectacular!

They suggest you bring warm clothes, as the temperature is usually at least 30 degrees cooler than on the desert floor. This picture shows the observatory from my little house down in the Tubac Foothills – you have to look close to see the tiny little white observatory on top of the mountain between the ocotillo stalks, but it’s there!

Then there’s Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), which is said to support the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the Sun.

Founded in 1958, KPNO operates three major nighttime telescopes, shares site responsibilities with the National Solar Observatory and hosts the facilities of consortia which operate 19 optical telescopes and two radio telescopes. Kitt Peak is located 56 miles southwest of Tucson, AZ, in the Schuk Toak District on the Tohono O'odham Nation and has a Visitor Center open daily to the public.

In the heart of Tucson, you can find the University of Arizona Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, which includes the Catalina Facility on Mt Lemmon, just north of Tucson.

The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association is a group of people that explore, observe, and learn about the objects in the solar system and night sky, and who enjoy sharing their knowledge. Members vary in expertise from beginner to professional, and the group welcomes the public to their meetings.

The Flandrau Science Center - The University of Arizona Planetarium says “"Astronomy" is Tucson's middle name, and from our home here in "Optics Valley" The University of Arizona's Flandrau Science Center has their finger on the pulse of what's happening in the world (or should we say the universe) of astronomy. The new center incorporates four major themes - life, earth, technology and space.”

So, as you can see, so to speak, the Tucson area is the place to be if the universe is in your soul and you want to touch the stars!

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