Star Trails at Kitt Peak

Kitt Peak at Night

The Mayall 4-Meter Telescope on Kitt Peak

The Mayall 4-Meter Telescope is the largest optical telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. The telescope is located at an altitude of 6875 feet. This telescope was placed into service in 1973, and at the time, the 158-inch mirror used in this telescope was one of the largest in the world. The size of this telescope approached the maximum limits of telescope construction at the time, and the design required a massive structure to secure the extraordinarily heavy mirror. The dome structure is eighteen stories tall, and the mirror weighs 500 tons. In later years, the construction of large telescopes was revolutionized by pioneering innovations in mirror production at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, including spin-casting and honeycomb mirrors. It became possible to build larger telescopes at a fraction of the cost, which could be enclosed in smaller buildings, and which were capable of significantly better performance. The Mayall Telescope has yielded significant scientific returns, and helped to establish the dynamical structure of elliptical galaxies such as M87 and M49.

This photo shows star trails at night on Kitt Peak. I took this image while I was up on Kitt Peak operating the 90-inch Bok Telescope. The photo was taken with a Nikon F2 camera using a 35mm lens. I left the camera outside on a tripod with the shutter locked open. As the earth rotated during the night, the stars left trails on the exposed film. The star trails provide a beautiful backdrop for the dome of the Mayall 4-Meter Telescope.

March 30, 2004
Photo by Sid Leach
Kitt Peak, Arizona

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