Southwest

Scenic Arizona At Night

The Stars

June 14, 2017 in JOURNEYS,RV Tour,Southwest | Comments (1)

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Two sacred peaks of the Tohono O’oodham people. They gave one to us for astronomy. The other remains inviolate.

By LARRY CALLOWAY (C)

Southern Arizona is known for some spectacular views of . . . the heavens. Kitt Peak, which we visited, has 25 big astronomical telescopes, most of them owned by universities. Other land-based optical observatories (to use the technical term accommodating the space age) are scattered on other Arizona peaks.

Before ascending to higher views we attended a demonstration of a small (about $15,000) scope in a dome at the Butterfield RV Resort And Observatory in Benson, AZ. The volunteer, who called himself an “astro-nerd” as opposed to a professional astronomer, punched up Orion, the Pleiades, Jupiter with its four large moons, and the relatively blinding one attached to us.

This experience probably is what motivated us to drive Freddy the RV up Kitt Peak about two weeks later. The Ford 450 had no problem climbing the serpentine two-lane road that gains about 5,000 vertical feet in 12 miles to the cool 6,880 crest dotted with white domes against a far desert backdrop.

The Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak.

We took a tour in which a retired astronomer walked us up to the floor of the biggest scope at the highest point (on a clear day its dome can be seen from Tucson). Called the Mayall Telescope, it was the first project after the government acquired from the Tohono O’oodham tribe a perpetual lease to the mountain top (now resented by some of its members) in the post-Sputnik frenzy of 1958.

After seeing the huge tracking and focussing machine, Pat wondered, “Where is the little man looking through an eyepiece?” (Mayall is like a camera, it makes photos.) She was wise enough not to ask the ancient astronomer in his floppy hat.

I was not so wise, asking him, “Why are so many discoveries made by amateurs with small telescopes?” He answered, brusquely, that those comets, asteroids, etc., were basically “uninteresting.” The professionals are doing science. (more…)