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Whipple Observatory


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General Information

Description - Information provided by the Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory

Exhibits include models of the original and recently converted Multiple Mirror Telescope, a three-dimensional model of galaxy distribution in the universe, and a touchable topographical map of the Santa Rita Mountains.

Attractions - Telescopes and Exhibits - Other displays trace the history of optical telescope development from Galileo to the new instruments planned for the 21st Century, recount the many Smithsonian research projects in Arizona during the past century, and describe current investigations in gamma-ray astronomy and optical-infrared interferometry. A natural history exhibit examines those animals active in the nighttime, and features a large color transparency of the night sky over southern Arizona. All exhibits and public areas are accessible; and, major exhibit titles have been translated into Spanish. (A full-text, bilingual guide to selected exhibits is available.) In addition to the interior exhibits, the Visitors Center complex includes an outdoor patio with a Native American petroglyph discovered on site during construction, interpretative signage describing desert flora, and stunning views of the surrounding Santa Rita Mountains. And, two new spotting devices, a 20-power telescope with an individual adjustable focus and a set of wide-field binoculars with automatic focusing, have recently been installed on the outdoor patio of the Visitors Center. Manufactured by SeeCoast, Inc. and acquired through a Smithsonian Institution Special Exhibition Fund grant, the telescope and binoculars allow public visitors to capture close-up views of the MMT Observatory and Project IOTA facilities on the distant summit of Mt. Hopkins, as well as to view natural features of the surrounding Santa Rita Range of the Coronado National Forest and to see the telescopes of the Kitt Peak Observatory located some 50 miles to the west. Most important, the binoculars are mounted on a wheel-chair-accessible base. The addition is the latest in a series of features incorporated into the Whipple Observatory Visitors Center designed to make the facility acccessible to broader audiences. For example, a rest and recreation area at the entrance to the site has a ramp leading to a wheel-chair accessible picnic table and cook-stove as well as rest rooms; and, a major part of its nature trail has a hardened surface. Presentation videos are open-captioned; and, for guests from nearby Mexico, a guide to exhibit and display text is available in Spanish.

Recreation - A trailhead, rest rooms, and picnic area developed by the Forest Service and located just outside the main gate is open 24 hours a day. There are benches, grills, and a hardened path that leads to vantage points overlooking Montosa Wash, a deep drainage running parallel to the site. A kiosk at the trailhead provides information about camping and hiking as well as other public programs. (The rest rooms and one picnic area are designated as accessible.) The picnic area is a perfect stopping-off spot for tours of other Arizona attractions, including Tumacacori National Historic Park, the San Xavier Mission, Tubac, or Nogales. Amateur astronomers are invited to bring their telescopes to the "Astronomy Vista," a special observing site with concrete pads and benches along a knoll at an elevation of 1524 meters (5000 feet) approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) east of the Visitors Center on a paved road. Here, within sight of the Multiple Mirror Telescope, amateurs may take advantage of the same clear, dark, Arizona skies so important to professional astronomers. (Access to telescope pads requires climbing a short, but somewhat steep, unpaved trail.)

Climate - Cold air masses from Canada sometimes penetrate into the state, bringing temperatures well below zero in the high plateau and mountainous regions of central and northern Arizona. The lowest readings can dip to 35 degrees F below zero. High temperatures are common throughout the summer months at the lower elevations. Temperatures over 125 degrees F have been observed in the desert area. Great extremes occur between day and night temperatures throughout Arizona. The daily range between maximum and minimum temperatures sometimes runs as much as 50 to 60 degrees F during the drier portions of the year. During winter months, daytime temperatures may average 70 degrees F, with night temperatures often falling to freezing of slightly below in the lower desert valleys. In the summer the pine-clad forests in the central part of the state may have afternoon temperatures of 80 degrees F, while night temperatures drop to 35 or 40 degrees F.

Location - Located near Amado, Arizona on Mount Hopkins

Located at the base of Mt. Hopkins in the Santa Rita Mountains, 56 kilometers (35 miles) south of Tucson and just within the boundary of the Coronado National Forest


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