Kitt Peak National Optical Astronomy Observatory - Tucson, Arizona Astronomical Observatory and Space Center
The Kitt Peak National Optical Astronomy Observatory (or KPNO for short) is a United States national observatory and space center. It is located 56 miles southwest of the city of Tucson, Arizona. KPNO is generally considered to be part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (or NOAO for short) and it currently features the largest collection of high-tech astronomical devices and instruments in the entire world including a diverse selection of 26 optical telescopes.
This is the location from which the renowned Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program for amateur astronomers is run. The Kitt Peak National Optical Astronomy Observatory is also notable for hosting the first telescope ever used to search for near-Earth asteroids, as well as for being the first to calculate the probability of such a body ever colliding with Earth.
The primary instruments currently at work at KPNO include the WIYN 3.5 meter telescope and the ARO 12m radio telescope, as well as the Mayall 4 meter telescope. KPNO is also home to the world-famous McMath-Pierce Solar telescope which is notable for being the biggest solar telescope in the entire world, as well as for having the biggest unobstructed reflector in the world.
KPNO's visitor center is open daily to the general public (except on designated holidays) and is a must-see for those who are interested in learning more about not only our universe and night sky, but about the methods today's scientists use to investigate it and learn more about it themselves. One of the most popular ways to experience all the center has to offer is to join one of the three guided tours offered daily. The tours begin at the center itself with an informative discussion and introduction. Then the event progresses with a walking tour of KPNO's telescopes themselves. Self-guided walking tours via a map are also available, as are downloadable audio tours in podcast format for iPods and other popular mp3 players. Private or group tours can also be specially scheduled in advance.
The visitor's center features a number of amenities and options for the convenience and entertainment of visitors. These include a gift shop stocked with a wide array of astronomically-related items, books, educational material, pictures, and souvenirs to remember your trip by. Snacks and beverages are also provided for purchase. Visitors also have the option of packing and bringing their own lunch onto the observatory grounds and enjoying it at their leisure in the picnic area. The observatory's picnic area is located approximately 1 mile from the summit of Kitt Peak and includes access to restrooms, tables, water, and a Ramada. For large groups, the area must be reserved in advance directly through the visitor's center.
KPNO is also famous for its many public outreach programs that include its popular Nightly Observing Program and its Advanced Observing Program, as well as many offered classes. In addition to these programs, the observatory also hosts youth group overnights, a Meteor Mania program, and several advanced astronomy programs including Intro to Astrophotography, Exoplanet Exploration, and Asteroid Quest.
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