Advanced Southern Arizona telescope celebrates 40th anniversary

Whipple Observatory

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - One of the most advanced pieces of technology used to observe the night sky is celebrating a big anniversary.

The Multi-Mirror Telescope (MMT) Observatory high atop Mount Hopkins, east of Amado, is celebrating four decades of discoveries.

When you get to the top, it is hard to do anything but take in the view. 12 miles up a single lane road, with nothing between you and the sky, sits the MMT.

Home to 40 years of astronomical firsts no one could have seen coming.

Multi-Mirror Telescope (MMT) Observatory high atop Mount Hopkins (Source: KOLD News 13)
Multi-Mirror Telescope (MMT) Observatory high atop Mount Hopkins (Source: KOLD News 13) (Source: KOLD News 13)

“It’s always fun to be looking up the mountain road and be looking at the telescope,” said Dr. Grant Williams, the director of the MMT Observatory. “Knowing you’re going to be using that powerful instrument that night to make those discoveries is exciting.”

Williams has a job most kids dream of, using a telescope that has served as a pioneer for astronomers everywhere.

“One of the technical innovations for this telescope was to build a small, compact telescope, and build the building around it,” according to Williams. This means not only does the telescope move, but so does the building. “There are snowplows that actually plow snow as we rotate the building around it. It (the MMT) can view any position in the sky.”

Scientists spend weeks at a time on the mountain, preparing the telescope each night as the sun sets. Making groundbreaking discoveries that take a passion for astronomy to understand.

“Some of the major discoveries in the recent past include the discovery of short period white dwarf binaries,” explains Williams. “We’ve learned a great deal about the connection between exploding stars and supernovae. Whenever we’re doing observations, you are often doing it for the first time, so you’re discovering things nobody has ever seen before.”

The MMT is one of the world’s most powerful telescopes and can see to the very edges of the night sky, nearly all the way back to the beginning of the known universe.

However, Mt. Hopkins is not just home to Williams; it is also his favorite spot to watch the sun set.

“It’s definitely something to celebrate,” said Williams, who knows the 40-year history of the MMT better than anyone. “In the continental United States we don’t have a lot of large telescopes like this, so it’s great to have one so close to Tuscon.”

For more information on the telescope or scheduling a daytime tour, click on the following link https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/flwo/visitors-center.

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