Saturday, October 4, 2014

Star gazing

We hung out in Tucson for a couple of weeks after leaving the North Rim, waiting for approval to head south to Tumacácori, where we are now. While we were waiting we did some sightseeing around the area, including the basilica in Phoenix where there are more stained glass windows by Emil Frei (coming soon).

We also headed to Kitt Peak National Observatory one day. I'd heard of this place but so sketchily that I didn't have a clue where it is. Now I know.

It's a long, long drive up a mountain, up to where the air is clearer at about 6900 feet. Not as clear as in decades past, but better than at a lower elevation.

This was my first glimpse of some of the "twenty-four optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions," as shown on the sign near the entrance. It's an impressive place. 

The glass-tile mural on the outside of the Visitor Center was made by Juan Baz from Mexico City; it incorporates Mayan astronomical designs and a representation of one of the oldest observatories in the Americas, dating to 900-1000 AD: the Caracol at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico.

Every once in a while when I was a kid, like maybe once, my classmates and I were taken to Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I remember objects like this one, and how cool they were, but absorbed not one iota of science from any of them. I still don't know what it is or how it works or what its significance is, but it's still pretty cool.

This sun clock's polished sphere represents the sun. The image moves 15° an hour (15*24 hours=360°). Isn't science marvelous? Maybe I'm finally old enough to absorb some of it. Its designer is Stephen Jacobs.

Here is another clock in the form of a sun "dial." The shadow of the small ball on the curved plate gives the local solar time (vertical lines). The shadow also tells the approximate date (horizontal lines), except as I read it, it said it was March something, so obviously science just doesn't stick to me. Maybe you have to use deductive reasoning to know it's fall and not spring. Hmm.

We timed it just right to prevent an employee from going to lunch so he could show us the works of one of the telescopes. I was able to look through this one at the sun to see eruptions along the edge and spots moving across its surface.

The sum of my knowledge about this next one is that it's a solar telescope but is also used for daylight observation of the moon, studying the effects of meteor strikes. HH  tries his best, bless his heart, to explain how it all works but I'm just a girl and don't get it.

 The Peak has a lovely 360° view of the surrounding country.

We took an elevator to the top of this one, the Mayall 4-meter telescope,

to get a bird's-eye view of many other telescopes at the observatory.

It was amazing to me that there were no security checkpoints, no metal detectors, no admission charge, no keepers of the gates, at any of these buildings. Some of them were locked but the ones that were not were wide open to visitors.

Inside the Mayall was a series of construction photos, three of them reproduced here.

It was completed back in the day when this was a hotspot for astronomical observations. The Hubble has made these somewhat obsolete although researchers can still reserve time. Understanding the very little that I do about how these things work, and understanding a little more about the possibilities, the limitless boundaries that have never been explored, I wish I'd had a better education. The more I travel, the more I know how little I know.

Thought of the day:

It's like the universe screams in your face:
"Do you know what I am? How grand I am? How old I am? Can you even comprehend what I am? What are you compared to me?"
And when you know enough science, you can just smile up at the universe and reply,
"Dude, I am you!"
- Phil Hellenes