Continuing my odyssey of observing at any telescope that will have me, I spent 3 days last week at the MMT Observatory. The MMT (Magnum Mirror Telescope) was a test-bed for the use of multiple mirrors in a single telescope (hence the original name of the “Multiple Mirror Telescope”). In the late 1990s, the individual mirrors were replaced with a single 6.5m diameter mirror.
I have been fortunate enough to observe on a variety of different telescopes, but this is the largest I have used so far. The large collecting area enables observations of fainter objects, important for the galaxies I was observing on this run. For comparison, the last telescope I used (the VATT) would take approximately 13 times as long to collect the same amount of light from an astronomical object! Clearly having the bigger mirror is a time-saver when looking at faint objects.
More pictures of the MMT are in MMT Observing on flickr.
One of the obvious bonuses of observing is that it usually means you are on or near mountains. And for someone who loves climbing and hiking, that is hard to beat. After a bit of chatting with the previous observer, I had some information on a nice local hike accessible from the telescope. After a nice breakfast this morning I set out around noon with the intention of hiking as far as I could in an hour before turning around. This would give me a solid 2 hour hike and let me get back to the dorms with enough time to prepare for the night’s observing.
I mapped out the hike, starting near the summit of Mt. Hopkins and doing down the main road a ways before branching off towards the saddle. I lost a bit of time trying to find the fairly obscured trailhead, but was eventually on my way. The hike was quite pleasant with a little bit of snow on the trail to keep things interesting. I made it about halfway across the saddle towards Mt. Wrightson before turning back. Naturally I brought my camera, so here are a few pics from the hike…
More pictures were added to the set MMT Observing on flickr
Before I left Tucson to head back to the East coast, I visited the San Xavier del Bac mission (wikipeida), on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission was founded in 1692, and the current structure was built in the late 18th century. Rather than recount more information about this history (which is available at the links above), I’ll just put some pictures up:
The rest of the pictures on available here: San Xavier Mission on flickr
2 down, 2 to go. So far I have had tolerable weather for observing. The first night was somewhat cloudy and we lost some time but conditions overall were less than idea. Last night was better from the standpoint of clouds, with only a little bit of haze between the telescope and the galaxies I was observing. Despite that, I have gotten some good data.
The day before yesterday my parents were able to come up to the mountain for a quick visit. They were on their way to Texas and swung by to see the observatory. I showed them the Bok 90″ and we walked inside the Mayall 4m dome and over to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope. A volunteer was operating a Coronado solar telescope with a Hydrogen-alpha filter. We were able to see a large solar prominence on the surface.
It was great to see them and also to get to show them around my “office”
Things are looking iffy for tonight, but even worse for Sunday. Cloud cover moving in, so we will see what happens. It’s approaching time to head back to the telescope, but I think I will enjoy the view for a few more minutes before I go:
After a bit of air travel, some driving, and then a few hundred feet of walking, I am now sitting in the control room of the 90″ Bok Telescope at Kitt Peak. It is just around dinner time here, so I currently have the room to myself. My observing run starts tomorrow night, but I am here a day early so I can be certified to use the 90Prime imager. So, for the evening I am tagging along on someone else’s run.
We still have another hour or two until sunset… but things will start moving along shortly. If you want to be up to date on the action, check my twitter feed.