Kitt Peak Visitor Center

Interactive exhibits, photographs, and interpretative panels help tell the Kitt Peak story.

Home


Tours, Stargazing,
Programs, and Exhibits

Exhibits (Indoor and Outdoor)

Indoor Exhibits

The Sun, telescopes, the spectrum, plasma and more are introduced

Our exhibits and displays provide an introduction to important concepts and discoveries in astronomy. They also illustrate how telescopes work, the importance of aperture size, and the critical dependence upon dark skies in order to view the universe. You can view yourself in the thermal infrared part of the spectrum and discover the nature of plasma. An overview of Kitt Peak history is also presented.

Heliostat

See our Sun's sunspots on a large screen in the comfort of the Visitor Center

Mounted on the roof of the Visitor Center is a tracking mirror that relays a live visible light image of the Sun. During peak periods of solar activity numerous sunspots may be seen. The Sun's activity level changes day to day and on a longer 11 year cycle. Viewing occurs inside the Visitor Center auditorium/exhibit gallery when weather and staffing permit.

Mirrors Exhibit

Compare mirror sizes of our largest telescopes

These vertically displayed mirrors will help you to gain an appreciation of why bigger is better. These mirror blanks illustrate the relative diameters of our largest mirrors in use on Kitt Peak. See how mirror blanks are formed, and learn the process steps that result in precisely gauged reflecting mirrors, to capture the photons from very distant cosmic objects.

Plasma Display

Touch the plasma ball and see how you can affect the plasma whirling within

Plasma physics underlies much of how nature works. The powerful ionic properties of this state of matter are at the heart of star formation as well as of galaxies and other cosmic bodies. Learn how even your hand moving across a ball of plasma energy can divert the stream of plasma particles.

Outdoor Exhibits

Sample of outdoor items of interest

Scattered across the mountain are descriptive panels describing some of the large telescopes located on the mountaintop. A large petroglyph covered rock which was unearthed at a nearby ranch speaks to the long span of human habitation in this area. There are also benches allowing you to rest and take in the terrific views. An artistically designed solar clock allows you to tell time on a clear day.

The Visitor Center Mural

Created by Juan Baz, an artist from Mexico City, the mural is composed of multicolored glass tile

The large outdoor mural features Mayan astronomical designs and representation of one of the oldest observatories in the Americas: the Caracol at Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico. The observatory, constructed between 900 and 1100 AD, served as a platform from which the Maya made precise astronomical observations allowing them to predict solar and lunar eclipses.

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. 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 implementation. Essentially it is a time machine. See if you can understand its workings.

Solar Telescopes for Visitor Viewing

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.


become a fan on facebook

See what others say about
Kitt Peak National Observatory
on TripAdvisor.