Elizabeth and I have just returned to our Scottsdale home after an exquisite weekend in Tucson. Overall, it is hard to beat a weekend like this. It had a little bit of everything that constitutes fun, both in earthly and spiritual senses.
We attended a marvelous opera, and went peak-top-peak, cheek-to-cheek 🙂 – from Mt Lemmon (8,200 ft) to Kitt Peak National Observatory (7,000 ft).
We watched the sun for the first time through the world’s largest solar telescope, and saw two giant solar spots or flares. And then we drove back to Tucson through a torrential monsoon thunderstorm which cleared the air and dropped the temperature 30F.
We finished the weekend this morning (Oct 20) with an 8-mile hike in the Sabino Canyon.
PEAK-TO-PEAK, CHEEK-TO-CHEEK – KITT PEAK – REACHING FOR THE SUN, STARS
It took about an 1:40 hrs to traverse peak-to-peak, from Mt Lemmon’s Summerhaven northeast of Tucson, to Kitt Peak southwest of the city (see the above map).
Just as with Mt Lemmon, the temperatures dropped the higher we climbed. By the time we reached the peak of Kitt Peak, elevation just under 7,000, the temperatures were in the low 60s.
When we finally reached the National Observatory, it was 1:10 PM. The tour of the grounds and the 4m telescope (the biggest dome in the above shots) was due to start at 1:30 PM. So we were thrilled when we found out that we would have a rare chance to view our Sun through the world’s largest telescope, according to the local docents. The structure you see below was built in 1962.
The images you can see above came from the Kitt Peak website. And they approximate what Elizabeth and I saw viewing the sun for the first time with a naked eye through two different telescopes.
We saw, for example, two sun spots. One was “average,” “only” about 20,000 miles in diameter (yet two thirds of Uranus!). The other was enormous – roughly 80,000 miles in diameter. Which is bigger than Jupiter (see below). Yet it looked like a small dot at about 5 o’clock (lower right corner) of the sun.
We had been to two higher observatories – Mauna Kea (14,000 ft), Haleakala (10,000 ft). But this was the first time that we had a chance to actually look through one of those enormous telescopes and see the universe from such a unique perspective.
“I think that if I grew up in this country, I would have been an astronomer,” I told Elizabeth. But in the country of my birth (Yugoslavia), astronomy was as far out of reach for a would be scientist in the 1960s as were the celestial bodies themselves.
So now, both Elizabeth and I are trying to catch up to what we missed in our youth.
4m TELESCOPE TOUR
After a brief introductory presentation in the visitor center, we were taken on a walking tour of the 4m telescope, built in 1974. This has been the main workhorse of the Kitt Peak observatory site for the last 40 years. And the telescope is still booked up long in advance by various universities and scientific organizations.
And now, here are some still pictures we took during the tour…
By the time the tour ended, almost two hours later, the sky looked rather ominous all around us. We could feel, more than see, a storm brewing in the distance.
LATE MONSOON STORM
About half way back to Tucson, we had planned to stop at a pumpkin patch and maybe cut one for Halloween. But changed our minds at the last minute when we saw some very dark clouds heading our way from the direction of Tucson.
Five minutes after the pumpkin patch. the monsoon hit with a vengeance. We loved it. The storm was an unexpected treat.
This year, we had traded our desert monsoon excitement for two hurricanes in Hawaii. And now, unexpectedly, we had a chance to be in the middle of a desert monsoon so late in the year. And here I thought that the two monsoons that hit us back in September were the late ones… 🙂
In over 30 years of living in Arizona, I do not recall ever experiencing a monsoon this late in the fall (Oct 19). Normally they come to the Sonoran desert from the Baja California in late July and August.
So this one was a freak of nature. But what a delightful freak it was. Lightening and thunder all around us. We rarely get thunder in Hawaii. Which is why this experience was so special.
By the time we got back to Tucson, the storm had passed over us, leaving behind at a cool 61F evening.
In short, as we traveled peak-to-peak, cheek-to-cheek on Sunday, we experienced two highs and three lows – all within less than six hours.
MORE TO COME FROM OUR TUCSON WEEKEND…