Kitt Peak National Observatory

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Overview

Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) opened in the late 1950s as one of the first public access professional optical observatories in the United States.  In 1957, the National Science Foundation (NSF) contracted with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., (AURA) to operate Kitt Peak as a national center for optical astronomy, open to any and all astronomers on a competitive peer review basis.   In 1982 Kitt Peak became part of a new entity, the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) which consolidated management of all national ground-based optical observatories: KPNO; the National Solar Observatory with facilities at Kitt Peak and Sacramento Peak, New Mexico; the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile; and now the 8-meter Gemini North and South instruments, in Hawaii and Chile. Headquarters for NOAO are in Tucson, Arizona, on the campus of the University of Arizona.

Located in the Quinlan Mountains of the Sonoran Desert 55 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, KPNO is on land leased from the Tohono O'odham nation.  Major telescopes on the mountain saddle include the Mayall 4-meter reflector illustrated in the Explore the Universe gallery, the 3.5-meter WIYN , the 2.1-meter and the 0.9-meter, all identified in terms of the diameter of their primary mirrors.  Also on the mountain are a major solar observatory facility and numerous telescopes operated by consortia of universities.

Figure 1:   Visible domes house the Mayall 4-meter (lower left), the Steward Observatory's 90-inch (cylindrical dome) and both SpaceWatch telescopes, the SARA 0.9-meter, the Burrell Schmidt, the Visitor Center's 0.4-meter, and the 1.3-meter.  The McMath Solar Telescope is visible in the upper left. Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF

Figure 2:   KPNO 2.1-m (84-inch) line drawing.  NOAO/AURA/NSF

Figure 3:   Dr. Nicholas U. Mayall, Director of the Kitt Peak National Observatory from 1960 to 1971, observing at the prime focus of the 4-meter telescope in 1973.  Tom Eglin/NOAO/AURA/NSF