The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

A Trip Up Mount Graham

Going to get back into this blogging thing again.  I have a good reason to post today. I finally got a trip up to the Mount Graham International Observatory today. Mount Graham is near Safford, Arizona and home to some great telescopes.

The drive up the mountain is pretty long with lots of switchbacks. You aren’t going to make good time up there.  However you are treated to the changing vegetation as you ascend to 10,500 feet and a nice collection of animals.

The first telescope we stopped at was the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), affectionately known as the Pope Scope. The VATT is a relatively modest 1.8 meter diameter telescope but broke new ground, particularly with its f/1.0 mirror, ushering in an era of fast telescope mirror fabrication.  Here is the VATT.Next up was the Sub-Millimeter Telescope (SMT), a radio telescope. The SMT is in a dome and the dish sits right next to the edge of the dome make it virtually impossible to get a decent picture unless the dome is open (which it wasn’t).

Of course the big boy on the block is the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). The LBT features two 8.4 meter mirrors on a single mount. The light from these two massive mirrors can be combined to create the resolution of one telescope with a diameter of 22.8 meters if I remember correctly.  The observatory is active, but still has lots of work being done with the addition of new instruments and an adaptive optics system. Here’s a panoramic look from the mirror level.

You can see one mirror.  The other mirror is on the far side behind the equipment in the middle. The best pic I got from the floor had me in  it as  scale model.

The mirror you saw in the previous picture is being supported by those silver supports on the left. The whole telescope can rotate and tip up and down.  The scope is so well balanced, the whole thing can be moved by a 4 horsepower motor.

Now I am a fan of the quirky. Moths are very common up on Mount Graham. They have a homemade moth catcher…

That’s just what it looks like.  The light attracts the moths and the big fan sucks them down into the garbage can.

Finally, I will leave you with a pic showing how close we came to losing the observatory.  A fire came within 500 feet in the summer of 2004.  You can see where the fire advanced to before it was stopped.

August 31, 2011 - Posted by | Astronomy, Observatories, Telescopes

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