In the woods, another U facility

by Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

TUSCON, Ariz. – Fifty miles west of Mount Graham and its Large Binocular Telescope, on the other side of Coronado National Forest, sits another telescope the University uses.

The University has owned the Mount Lemmon Observing Facility since 1970, said Len Kuhi, head of the University’s astronomy department.

Although it does aid the University’s astronomical pursuits, Kuhi said it is not a cutting-edge telescope on par with the Mount Graham telescope or other facilities in the area.

“Isn’t it grim?” Kuhi said, referring to the aging facility and its telescope. “You can see why we are interested in the (Mount Graham International Observatory project).”

The Mount Lemmon facility is on a mountain much more commercially used than Mount Graham. Restaurants, small towns and litter dot the route to the 9,000-foot peak.

There are approximately six observing facilities currently on Mount Lemmon, said Charles Choats, a telescope technician who lives on-site to alleviate viewing problems.

“If some astronomer has a problem around 3 a.m., they don’t want to have to call someone down there,” Choats said, referring to those not on the peak.

Kuhi said the Mount Lemmon facility is helpful for training graduate and undergraduate students in the basic tenets of astronomy, such as mapping the sky and using astronomy instruments.

The telescope facility itself carries with it the stale, ordered atmosphere and scent of old buildings, not unlike the University’s Blegen or Anderson halls.

Choats said fire has been a significant issue for the facilities, which are situated in the midst of an odoriferous pine forest.

Two major fires occurred on different sides of the mountain last year, he said.

Contingency plans are in place, and Choats said he will deal with the possibility as it presents itself. There are two large water tanks on the site, and helicopters filled with water were on the peak last year.

“This is the area right in the middle,” he said. “You can see the burnt trees from here.”