NOAO logo Kitt Peak

4-Meter Telescope Mayall 4-m Telescope
The National Optical Astronomy Observatories are operated for the National Science Foundation by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

General Information

Kitt Peak is the home of research facilities for two divisions of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO): Kitt Peak National Observatory and the National Solar Observatory.

The mission of the National Observatories is to advance United States astronomy. As a national center for optical astronomy, NOAO fulfills a three-fold role:

Aerial view of Kitt Peak Aerial view of Kitt Peak.

Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) operates the Mayall 4-meter, the 2.1-meter and Coudé Feed, the 0.9-meter, and the Burrell Schmidt telescopes.

NOAO operates the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak on behalf of the WIYN Consortium, comprised of the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University and NOAO.

National Solar Observatory (NSO) telescopes on Kitt Peak include the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Facility containing the world's three largest solar telescopes (1.6-meter main and two 0.9-meter auxiliaries), along with the Vacuum Telescope and the Razdow small solar patrol telescope. The National Solar Observatory also operates telescopes at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico.

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), a third division of NOAO, is located in northern Chile.

A fourth division of NOAO, the United States Gemini Program (USGP), was established in 1993 to support national interests in the Gemini Project, an international partnership between the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil to build two 8-meter telescopes, one on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the other on Cerro Pachon, Chile.

Great Nebula of Orion
1973 image of the Great Nebula of Orion taken from the Mayall 4-meter Telescope.

Kitt Peak was selected as the site for a national observatory after a three-year survey involving more than 150 mountain sites across the United States. Kitt Peak is located on the Tohono O'odham Reservation. In October 1958, the National Science Foundation signed a lease with the Tribal Council for use of 200 acres of the mountaintop under a perpetual agreement that is valid as long as scientific research facilities are maintained at the site.

Other institutions lease space for the operation of telescopes on Kitt Peak from the National Science Foundation, including the University of Arizona, Case Western University, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the MDM Observatory (University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA).

Solar Sunspot
Rare spiral sunspot of February 19,1982, taken with the Solar Vacuum Telescope.


Kitt Peak is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1.

Daily guided tours begin at the Visitor Center at 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. (Tours last approximately one hour.)

Group tours are available by advance reservations: call (520) 318-8732.

Admission is free.

For a different experience, visit Kitt Peak at night. The Visitor Center telescope dome is open to the public every evening. Use binoculars and a state-of-the-art 16-inch telescope to gain an understanding of the evolution of the universe. View planets, the birth and death of stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Reservations are required for the nighttime observing program.

Discover the fun of stargazing!

Walking Tour Map

During regular hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour of Kitt Peak. Visitor galleries offering interior views of telescopes are available at the Mayall 4-meter and 2.1-meter telescopes, as well as at the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope Facility. Steward Observatory facilities are not open to the public. Visitors may view the exteriors of several other telescopes marked on the map. Please observe signs indicating restricted areas and quiet zones around dormitories.

Mountain map

General Information about Kitt Peak

Location: 56 miles southwest of Tucson via State Route 86 on the Tohono O'Odham Reservation.

Elevation: The summit of Kitt Peak is at an elevation of 6,875 feet. People with cardiac and respiratory concerns should be aware that walking paths to several of the telescopes are steep.

Weather: Temperatures on Kitt Peak are 10 to 20 degrees cooler than in Tucson. Be prepared with warm clothing.

Public Facilities: No food or gas facilities are available at Kitt Peak. Public rest rooms are located adjacent to the parking lot. Wheelchairs and a handicap-accessible rest room are located in the Visitor Center.

Map for getting to Kitt Peak

National Optical Astronomy Observatories
P.O. Box 26732
Tucson, AZ 85726-6732

Recorded Visitor Information:
(520) 318-8200

Kitt Peak Visitor Center:
(520) 318-8726

NOAO World Wide Web Page


Updated: 29Sep1998