Kitt Peak Extras


Since arriving back in Tucson, I’ve been spending a large amount of time on Kitt Peak and have had ample time to practice deep-sky imaging. This blogpost will mostly contain images from the past few months, and in due time I will segue them into the existing Kitt Peak National Observatory blogpost.

 

Several weeks ago I used our new Levine 16″ telescope for some deep-sky imaging. Normally, DSLR cameras are attached to the side refractor and a CCD camera may be attached to the telescope prime focus for guiding. This allows the photographer to take longer exposures without the stars elongating. My coworker and I instead attached the DSLR directly to the 16″ telescope, and guided through the 5″ refractor. This has the disadvantage of a smaller field-of-view and a lower light gathering capability. However, we captured some beautiful images more quickly than we would have with a CCD camera.

M82 - The Cigar Galaxy Notice the recent supernova on the lefthand side of the edge-on spiral galaxy.

M82 – The Cigar Galaxy
Notice the recent supernova on the lefthand side of the edge-on spiral galaxy.

M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy A face-on spiral galaxy currently undergoing a collision with its dwarf galaxy companion to the upper left.

M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy
A face-on spiral galaxy currently undergoing a collision with its dwarf galaxy companion to the upper left.

The above two images were taken with a Canon 60Da (modified DSLR, for astrophotography purposes). They are a combination of six 3-minute exposures taken at ISO 1600. They were processed in Maxim DL, CCDStack and Photoshop.

 

On April 14, three of us imaged the total lunar eclipse through the Levine’s 5″ refractor. Our original intent was to create a movie, but this will be difficult because we did not change the exposures quickly enough. I was able to salvage the night’s work and process 8 of the images to create a composite of the sequence. This is currently being featured on the National Observatory’s Kitt Peak homepage (keep in mind the image at this link will eventually change, but it is current as of May 2014).

April 2014 Lunar Eclipse as seen from Kitt Peak National Observatory

April 2014 Lunar Eclipse as seen from Kitt Peak National Observatory

 

Finally, on April 21, I got the “dead-bodies” tour of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope – all of the nooks and crannies that are never seen. I even got to go all the way to the tippity-top! In case you haven’t seen the original Kitt Peak blogpost, an image of the solar telescope is shown below.

Looking down the hill from sunset, toward the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, which looks like a sideways seven.

Looking down the hill from sunset, toward the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, which looks like a sideways seven. The “cannons” on the top are actually heliostats: three plane mirrors which reflect sunlight down the diagonal shaft (one for East, middle and West).

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope is currently the largest in the world, soon to be replaced by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. It is sensitive enough to be used for nighttime observations in addition to the daytime observations of the Sun. When I visited, the astronomers were studying the moon. Other astronomers study Mercury, Venus, the moons of Jupiter and bright binary systems of stars.

The control room, where light can be projected onto an observation table or directed into a visible or near-infrared spectrograph. This is one of the most "interactive" telescopes on Kitt Peak. Rather than running everything by computer, the astronomers actually get to manually move the instruments into their proper positions.

The control room, where light can be projected onto an observation table or directed into a visible or near-infrared spectrograph. This is one of the most “interactive” telescopes on Kitt Peak. Rather than running everything by computer, the astronomers actually get to manually move the instruments into their proper positions.

Inside the diagonal, looking up toward the third mirror, which will reflect the light into the control room seen previously.

Inside the diagonal looking up toward the third mirror, which will reflect the light into the control room seen previously. TIP: If you visit Kitt Peak during the day you can see a similar view by entering a viewing gallery on the side of the tunnel.

25,000 feet of cooling pipes with glycol run through the diagonal.

25,000 feet of cooling pipes with glycol run through the diagonal.

127 stairs to the top of the tower, or, a short ride in a cart (right-hand side, blue).

127 stairs to the top of the tower, or, a short ride in a cart (right-hand side, blue). Most of the height is gained through a short elevator ride.

Finally up at the top! Looking toward

Finally up at the top! Looking toward the three heliostats. The outskirts of Tucson city lights can be seen in the background.

Looking up at the main heliostat.

Looking up at the main heliostat.

Looking down the 500-foot tunnel toward the second and third mirrors.

Looking down the 500-foot tunnel toward the second and third mirrors.

The following deep images were taken without a tripod; an improvised tripod was created with a tube of chapstick, so not the ideal method for stable images. However, they don’t look too bad. Hopefully I can visit again in May with a real tripod.

Looking down over the observatory grounds from the top of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. Would probably look way cooler if the moon had just risen and the domes were illuminated just a bit!

Looking down over the observatory grounds from the top of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. Would probably look way cooler if the moon had just risen and the domes were illuminated just a bit!

Struts that can act as a windscreen for the heliostats, if needed.

Struts that can act as a windscreen for the heliostats, if needed.

Back of the windscreen struts, facing the heliostats again.

Back of the windscreen struts, facing the heliostats again. Tucson city lights can be seen to the right, and the 4-meter dome to the left.

Finally, looking down on Green Valley or Nogales, not sure which. The bright white light is likely a border patrol checkpoint.

Finally, looking down on Nogales and the Santa Rita Mountains. Sierra Vista and Green Valley are also to the left of the frame. The bright white light is another border patrol checkpoint.

 

That’s all for now – I have about two more months until departing Tucson for good, so hopefully I’ll manage to check a few more things off my list. More updates to come soon!

 

– Emily

 

2 thoughts on “Kitt Peak Extras

  1. Hi Emily- Great pics w/your chapstick tripod! On the last image, the bright glow is Nogales, the mountain range to the left is the Santa Ritas, with another border patrol stop nearly to I-10 on the Arivaca Road. The glow beyond the Santa Ritas is Sierra Vista, and the diffuse glow on the far left edge is Green Valley. If you take more shots, be sure to post them! -Dean

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