The Kitt Peak Virtual Tour


Imaging Highlights


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The WIYN is credited with important work in the studies of supernovae in distant galaxies, the origin of gamma ray bursts, and the evolution of stars in clusters.

In 1901, a hot white dwarf star some 1500 light years from Earth, in the direction of the Perseus constellation, blasted away hydrogen gas that had accumulated on its surface. Such a stellar explosion is a nova, and this particular event was named Nova Persei 1901.

This nova appeared as one of the brightest stars in the night sky but dimmed over time. The explosion left behind an expanding shell of gas or nebula. Although astronomers refer to this nova remnant as GK Per, it is commonly called the The Firework Nebula because of its striking appearance.

A four minute exposure was required on the night of September 16, 1994, to capture this image of the nebula using the WIYN Telescope. To make the picture more attractive, the brightness has been shaded orange and red. This technique is called pseudo-color.

The WIYN Telescope was also used to image Planet Jupiter after it was impacted by Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on July 22, 1994. Typically the WIYN would not be used for observing planets. However, since the telescope's imager can open its shutter very rapidly, for only one tenth of a second, the WIYN was able to clearly record the scars caused by comet fragments striking the planet.

Pictures of planets are typically dimmer near the edges since a spherical object is being imaged. This photograph was processed so about the same brightness appears across the planet's disk.

Spiral galaxy NGC 891, like our own Milky Way, contains most of its stars, gas, and dust in a thin, rotating disk. From Earth, NGC 891 is viewed edge on, unlike the frontal appearance offered by galaxy NGC 6946. Together these two galaxies offer a portrait of one classification of galaxy, the spiral.

Other WIYN images of spiral galaxies reveal that spirals vary in the tightness of their arms, as well as the size and shape of their nucleus. These features help to distinct different types of spirals. Additional WIYN images reveal the range of research areas for which this telescope has been employed.




A galaxy consists of hundreds of billions of stars, gas, and dust, all held together by gravity. Galaxies are classified by their shape: elliptical, spiral and irregular. The Milky Way galaxy is spiral, with our solar system located about two-thirds of the way from the center in a spiral arm named the Orion Arm.


How many miles away are the stars (not our sun)?

Click here to find out!!


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NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Inc. under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The Kitt Peak Virtual Tour is developed and maintained by the NOAO Educational Outreach Office.

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