Kitt Peak Visitor Center

Kitt Peak is very much alive during the daylight hours and offers a variety of activities to enjoy. During the summer, the mountain is a great place to beat the desert heat.

Home Tours, Stargazing,
Programs, and Exhibits

Daytime Activities

See the dynamic array of daytime tours and activities

Guided tours

Enjoy guided tours with our docents

McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Tour

See the world's most striking solar telescope

Beginning in the Visitor Center at 10:00 am, the first tour each day takes you to this incredible facility. This telescope inside has been used by astronomers primarily during daylight hours to study the nearest star, the Sun. It has also made a variety of important nighttime observations of other objects. Its very long focal length allows it to bring high magnification to the study of bright solar system objects like the Moon, Venus, and Mercury. In recent years it has even been used to study exoplanets. From this part of the mountain, a visitor has stunning views of surrounding mountain chains and desert valleys.

This unusually designed telescope was the brain child of Dr. Robert McMath, one of the founders of the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Primarily involved in spectroscopic studies of the Sun, this telescope can see farther into the infrared than any other solar telescope.

2.1-Meter Telescope

See the first major optical telescope on Kitt Peak

Starting in the Visitor Center at 11:30 am, you will visit one of the early workhorses of Kitt Peak.

We are sorry, this telescope was not constructed to be accessible by wheelchair. Please note that there is a significant staircase to climb in order to see the telescope.

Seeing first light in 1964, the 2.1-meter (84 inch) telescope was the largest on Kitt Peak for almost a decade. It had an unusually short focal length and a mirror made of a brand-new material called "Pyrex" whose weight was lessoned by empty cavities inside the glass. In many ways this telescope design was ahead of its time.

Numerous important discoveries were made at the 2.1-meter. It first detected very distant clouds of hydrogen gas between galaxies, known as the Lyman-alpha forest. It observed the first example of gravitational lensing (as predicted by Einstein) and the first pulsating white dwarf star. Research into the rotation rate of spiral galaxies that began at the 2.1-meter eventually led to our current understanding of the existence of dark matter in the Universe.

4-Meter Mayall Telescope

See the largest major optical telescope on Kitt Peak

Most 1:30 pm tours to this facility will occur. However, a few tours could be impacted due to special construction described below.

If you are concerned, please contact the Visitor Center to confirm tour availability at (520) 318-8720.

This tour begins at 1:30 pm in the Visitor Center and proceeds up the hill to the telescope. Weighing in at nearly 300 tons, the 4-m is the largest optical telescope on Kitt Peak and is one of the most scientifically productive telescopes in the world.

We are sorry, this telescope was not constructed to be accessible by wheelchair. Please be aware that accessing the 360 degree viewing gallery requires climbing one set of steps and a second set of steps must be climbed in order to view the telescope.

Seeing first light in 1973, the Mayall 4-Meter Telescope was the 2nd largest in the world at that time. It remains the largest telescope on Kitt Peak. The 180 feet story telescope is easily visible from Tucson, 55 miles to the northeast.

For over 40 years the Mayall has been involved in cutting-edge astronomical research, most notably in understanding the size and large-scale structure of the visible universe. It has also been used in research on exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than the Sun). We have commenced major reconstruction for the telescope to undertake a very exciting, multi-year dedicated research project to unlock some of the secrets of dark energy. A unique spectrometer is also being developed for the telescope to allow it to quickly obtain the spectra of 5,000 objects simultaneously. You can track some of the construction activities at this YouTube site.


Solar Viewing

We are pleased to demonstrate our solar viewing telescopes

Solar Telescopes for Visitor Viewing

Observe the Sun through special filters to protect your eyes

To the unaided eye, the Sun presents an image of stability and a uniform yellow-white surface. Viewed through our two special telescopes, the Sun reveals itself to be dynamic, intricately detailed, and ever changing. A filtered visible-light telescope reveals the presence of sunspots. The second telescope views the solar atmosphere in a very narrow range of red light ("Hydrogen-Alpha") to show colossal prominences, filaments, loops, and more. Viewing occurs when weather and docent staffing permit. These telescopes are located in a small observatory dome not far from the giant McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.

This facility can be entered by wheelchair but viewing through the eyepiece requires a brief period of standing.

Solar Time Machine

Tell time using the Sun's shadow

Before the age of telescopes and clocks, telling the time of day was difficult. The ancient astronomers discovered the regularity of the motion of the Sun. They also discovered the seasons, so important to agriculture. By sticking a vertical pole in the ground they noticed the daily changing of the length and position of the pole's shadow. This eventually resulted in sundials, which became clocks for telling the time of day.

But the Sun's position varies approximately 4 minutes each day. Many devices were invented to compensate for this seasonal changing, and here before you is one such device. Essentially it is a time machine. See if you can understand its workings.


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