NOAO < The National Observatory—Celebrating 50 Years

The National Observatory—Celebrating 50 Years

Kitt Peak, also known as Iolkam Du’ag, was selected in 1958 as the site for a national observatory from a survey that included more than 150 mountain ranges across the United States. Located on lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation in the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson, Arizona, the mountain is home to the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. KPNO, dedicated March 15, 1960, has evolved over the past 50 years into the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and the National Solar Observatory. In recognition and celebration of this anniversary we have sponsored a series of events over the past two years. These have included an Observatory open house for the people of the Tohono O’odham Nation, open houses, a reunion for former observatory employees, several public lectures, and two science symposia.

These events were enjoyed by the participants, but we know are also of interest to those who were not able to be involved at the time. To share more broadly some of what occurred, we are archiving images, movies, and presentations from the events. We hope you enjoy exploring this archive of our 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Sincerely,

Buell T. Jannuzi

Employee Reunion Event Held November 2009

A reunion of retired, former, and current employees of Kitt Peak National Observatory, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and the National Solar Observatory was held as part of our 50th celebrations. A collection of images and summary of activities is being prepared and will be linked to this web page in the near future.


Midday on Kitt Peak
by astronomer William K. Hartmann, May 2009

Visions of the Cosmos — Artists in Residence at KPNO

Members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA) spent October 18 through 23, 2009 in residence at KPNO to create artwork inspired by the observatory and astronomy. They interacted with the visiting public during their time at the observatory and also spent time working and meeting with citizens of the Tohono O’odham Nation while visiting the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Cultural Center and Museum. The artists later exihibited their work on Friday, October 23, 2009, in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building Atrium. The “Visions of the Cosmos” exhibit celebrated the 50th anniversaries of both the National Astronomy Observatory and The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

A collection of images and summary of activities is being prepared and will be linked to this web page in the near future.

Science Symposia held March 2010

Two symposia were held in Tucson during the month of March, 2010. From First Light to Newborn Stars , March 14-17, followed by The Eventful Universe March 17-20. On March 17th both symposia met together for talks by our distinguished invited speakers (Vera Rubin, Nick Suntzeff, Heather Morrison, Charlie Lada, Douglas Rabin and Alan Dressler) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Observatory and to look to the future.

Why Kitt Peak? The Importance of Iolkam Du’ag to the Tohono O’odham and the Birth of Kitt Peak National Observatory

Our national astronomy observatory on Kitt Peak was dedicated 50 years ago on March 15, 1960. As part of our celebration of this 50th anniversary, Kitt Peak National Observatory’s first Director Dr. Aden B. Meinel spoke about the selection of Kitt Peak as the site for the national observatory and Bernard Siquieros, Education Curator of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Cultural Center and Museum, shared a Tohono O’odham perspective on the relationship of the Tohono O’odham people with Iolkam Du’ag, also known as Kitt Peak, and the mountains of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Introductions of the speakers were provided by KPNO Director Buell Jannuzi, NOAO Astronomer, emeritus Helmut Abt, and Steward Observatory Public Evening Series coordinator Dr. Tom Fleming.

We invite you to submit your memories.

How has our national observatory affected you? Are there special people or experiences that you recall and would like to share? Do you have images of the observatory, its telescopes, or its people that you would like to share? As we collect your comments, we’ll post many on the web site, so everyone may enjoy these stories of our historic past and ongoing evolution.

To share your memories simply send an email to with a subject line of “Kitt Peak Memories.” Include your memories in the text of the email, or attach it as a Word file. Give your memory a title and feel free to attach up to two images that you would like to share. Images should be at least 1000 pixels in the longest dimension and in JPG format. Also, please include a caption for each image. If you would like to share more images, you may send an email to the same address and let us know how many images you would like to share so we can help you get them to us. We also have some links of interest below.