Kitt Peak was. Awesome. I had done Tombstone the previous day in what was originally supposed to be my only free time after a job in Fort Huachuca, but I couldn't get a plane out until Saturday so Kitt Peak was my overstay day two destination of choice.
Cartoon cactus! Kitt Peak National Observatory is about a 2 hour drive West of Tucson. It is the home of 26 telescopes, the largest array of them anywhere in the world. Included among them are one radio telescope dish which is a member of the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array), the largest solar telescope in the world, and the first telescope used to search for near-Earth asteroids that could possibly strike us one day.
It was a holy pilgimmage. Only better, because the sense of holiness at the top of this mountain felt like something real, something tangible, and not simply mass superstitious willfull delusion. (That needs a better word; is there a word that describes The Emperor Wears No Clothes syndrome? Mass delusion, hysteria, or hypnosis don't really cut it because we need something to connotate the willfullness of it.)
There is always a very real sense of excitement when one visits such places, places where the advancement of the human race has occurred, is still occurring, and will always occur as long as there are those who use their minds rather than their emotions to peer into reality. Or at least engage in the attempt.
It's a feeling of utter joy and freedom, something I never did feel as a member of a certain religion. Perhaps, in light of my previous paragraph, I ought not to use the word 'feeling'. Obviously I don't mean that emotions are evil; though they do lead one into error quite handily, especially during investigations. One should feel one's emotions, take pleasure in them, even use them in any form of expression you might choose, but never be guided by them.
Well enough of traveller's philosophy. Suffice it to say, I prefer a big metal telescope on a mountaintop to a guru any day.
So getting back to the details of my pilgrimmage; having a whole day and night until my departure from the desert around Tucson, I decided to take part in the evening observation program which they offer nightly. It was awesome. First they take you on a brief sunset tour of a few choice spots on the peak.
Then they let us into one of the working telescope domes for a brief lecture and demonstration of stuff. You know, sciencey stuff.
But the absolute high point was of course actual observation. We got to play with one of the telescopes. A dinky one to be sure, as far as Kitt Peak scopes go, but certainly a more powerful one than I've ever had the opportunity to use before.
We got to see moon craters, a binary star system, and Jupiter's cloud bands. it was pretty freaking sweet. In the advanced observing program for amateur astronomers, they let you use their digital telescope cameras to take and keep pictures of stuff that you choose to look at. But that program costs like $500 and is a sleepover so, not in the cards for me on this trip. (Or should I say, not in the STARS for me on this trip? Yuk snort! No, no I guess I shouldn't.) Next time.
I also got to sit around and take cool night photos while other people got a turn at the eyepiece so, win win all around. I took a metric ton of these, but I'll spare you and post only the money shot.
And that's pretty much it. It was quite a hushed evening, meditative even; there's a stillness on an astronomer's mound at night, even among a group of other stargazers, that has to be experienced to be appreciated, hence all of my holy comparisons.
There was an infrared camera inside, and I couldn't resist a parting shot of myself in the monitor. Creepy right?
And now I am currently on my Honeymoon! You know, with that girl I married. It's been a great trip so far, but I just wanted to get these Kitt Peak pix up before the onslaught of European photos begin.