McMath–Pierce solar telescope

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McMath–Pierce solar telescope
Organisation National Solar Observatory
Location(s) Kitt Peak, United States of America
Coordinates 31°57′30″N 111°35′42″W / 31.9584°N 111.595°W / 31.9584; -111.595Coordinates: 31°57′30″N 111°35′42″W / 31.9584°N 111.595°W / 31.9584; -111.595
Altitude 2,096±1 metre
Weather 72% clear nights
Wavelength Optical and infrared
Built 1960–1962
Telescope style Prime focus reflecting telescope
Diameter 161±1 centimetre
Angular resolution 0.07 arcsec @ 500nm (theoretical)
Collecting area 2.04 m²
Focal length 82.62 m
Mounting Equatorial mount with heliostat
Dome Slanted tower

The McMath–Pierce solar telescope is a 1.6 m f/54 reflecting solar telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, USA. The building was designed by Myron Goldsmith and built in 1962. It is the largest telescope of its kind in the world and is named for astronomers Robert McMath and Keith Pierce. At the dedication in 1962, Dr. Waterman read a letter[1] from President Kennedy starting with:


A painting by Tucson astronomer and space artist William K. Hartmann, done on site, showing the McMath-Pierce telescope glowing golden in the light of the setting sun.
The inside of the slanted shaft

The telescope contains a heliostat at the top of its main tower which focuses the sun's light down a long shaft. The distinctive diagonal shaft continues underground, where the telescope's primary mirror is located. The theoretical resolution of this main telescope 0.07 arcsec, although this is never reached because atmospheric distortions degrade the image quality severely. The image scale is 2.50 arcsec/mm at the image plane.

In addition to this 1.6-meter primary mirror, there are also an East- and West-auxiliary telescope which are completely independent of the main telescope. These two auxiliary telescopes both have a 0.91-meter heliostat which are located beside the main heliostat. These auxiliary telescopes have a slightly shorter focal length and f-numbers of 50 and 44. The resolution of the auxiliary telescopes is 5.11 arcsec/mm and 5.75 arcsec/mm.

The enclosure of the telescope was designed and engineered by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.[2]


The top of the tower.

The third mirror of the main telescope which sends the light down into the observing room can be moved above three different positions. Two of these have a vacuum spectrograph beneath them, one of 18 meter deep and the other 4 meter deep with lower resolution but higher light throughput. These two spectrographs are able to rotate to compensate for the rotation of the image caused by the use of a heliostat. The third position can only be equipped with a static optical table with no image rotation correction and is therefore rarely used.

A notification of 1992 rededication of the telescope.

The auxiliary telescopes can only be used for imaging on static optical tables and do not provide image rotation correction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NSO/KP History of the MP Facility". Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  2. ^ "McMath–Pierce Solar Telescope". Retrieved 2012-03-16. 

External links[edit]