G e o f f  H a i n e s - S t i l e s
Project Director
Friday November 20
"Sunrise...Sunset" on Kitt Peak

Night falls, the solar telescopes rest but the 20 other giant eyes on the mountain come alive.
hen breakfast, and a meeting with Frank Hill, one of the astronomers resident in Tucson, committed to education and outreach, and an expert on helioseismology-using sound waves to show the interior structure of the Sun. With Jeff's colleague, Jackie, now ably assisting we explored, with Frank on camera, the huge McMath-Pierce Telescope from top to base, buried deep down in the mountain. Again we got to go places no other tourists could-and we saw the plaintive looks from jealous eyes in the visitors' observation galleries-all in order to take our student audience with us in the upcoming videos. Neither Brian nor I are too keen on heights (though he still loves helicopter filming!) but here we were, high on top of the McMath, peering up into its main mirror, and then down a vast hexagonal tube, following the path of a beam of light as Frank compellingly explains how it all works. (See Frank's BIOGRAPHY.)
Trolley-cars like these move the mirrors, and privileged visitors, up and down inside the McMath-Pierce.

As viewers will see, the McMath, built in the 1960's, is still an amazing and beautiful structure. To keep the Sun's image as stable as possible, the entire shell of the telescope is ringed with coolant, running through what looks like corrugated roofing, painted blinding white inside and out. It was like being inside a colossal radiator! To travel up to the top, you ride a trolley, with wheels like a San Francisco street car. The images created by this and the other telescopes we'd seen on this trip-the Richard B. Dunn Vacuum Tower Telescope at Sac. Peak, and Hilltop Dome, also on Sac. Peak (which transmits daily, white light "patrol" images of the Sun to the Net)-never failed to emphasize just how wrong is our impression of the Sun as a featureless disc... and just how impressive is the engineering it took to design and build these extensions of our human senses. We met Richard Dunn himself at Sac. Peak-who designed that powerful telescope, shaped like a very skinny pyramid-and we met Keith Pierce (yep, the Pierce in "McMath-Pierce") at Kitt Peak. Both were officially "retired", but it was obvious that both so loved the instruments they'd built, and the sights they could deliver, too much to take retirement seriously. Thinking students should meet some veteran watchers of the sky who relished work too much to take it easy, we interviewed Dr. Pierce, and you'll soon meet him on camera or online.

Back to Field Journals Menu Geoff Haines-Stiles' Journal    1     2     3