Construction begins on NOIRLab Windows on the Universe Center

Construction begins on NOIRLab Windows on the Universe Center

What was once the largest solar observatory in the world is now undergoing a transformation to become a one-of-a-kind facility for sharing the wonders of astronomy with people around the globe. Construction work has started to recast the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope facility at Kitt Peak National Observatory into the NOIRLab Windows on the Universe Center for Astronomy Outreach.

Dedicated in 1962 and retired in 2017, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, in southern Arizona was used to make numerous scientific discoveries about the Sun, the Moon, and the planets, including detecting water vapor on the Sun. In 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $4.5 million grant to convert the facility into a unique outreach center that will provide the public with new ways to experience the cutting-edge research being carried out at KPNO and NSF’s other astronomy facilities around the globe.

“Instead of getting the wrecking ball, the McMath-Pierce is going to be transformed,” said Bill Buckingham, Project Director for Windows on the Universe. “It’s being given a new mission, which is just as important as research, to demonstrate why the public should support astronomy research. I don’t know of any other retired federal telescope being repurposed like this before in the US.”

Visitors to the center will explore the wide variety of research carried out at NSF’s astronomy facilities, including KPNO, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, the international Gemini Observatory, Vera C. Rubin Observatory, and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope – all managed by AURA – as well as the Very Large Array (VLA), Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), South Pole Telescope, IceCube Neutrino Observatory, and Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). The center will ultimately feature a digital planetarium, interactive exhibits, and a Science On a Sphere display.

Part of the center’s mission is to convert data, images, and video from NSF observatories into formats that can be shared and displayed in planetariums and Science On a Sphere exhibits around the world, expanding the center’s reach globally. The center will also preserve three solar telescopes (called heliostats) and a control room from the McMath-Pierce observatory, to give visitors the experience of being at a telescope and participating in research carried out at NSF facilities.

“This is a unique and distinctive 10-story structure that extends deep underground, and it was also used by Apollo astronauts to examine the Moon’s surface,” said Buckingham [1]. “There is no other outreach facility with this kind of history and architecture.”

Much work is needed to turn the research observatory into a public museum that can host exhibits and also be comfortable, safe, attractive, and functional for guests visiting from around the world. The first step, which has begun, is to identify and safely remove hazardous materials from the building.

After that, workers from the W.E. O’Neil Construction Company of Tucson, Arizona, will begin to knock down walls to convert small rooms – once used as offices, workshops, photographic darkrooms, and other science and engineering spaces – into large rooms that will host interactive exhibit galleries and astronomy visualization theaters.

Plumbing will be added for public restrooms and water fountains, along with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Internet connections will be installed in addition to new lighting, carpeting, and acoustic upgrades. In all, more than 750 square meters (8000 square feet) of space within the former observatory will be modified. This work is expected to take six to eight months to complete. It will then take an additional 10 to 12 months to install the theaters and exhibits. Windows on the Universe is expected to open to the public in 2023.

“We are excited to see the transformation of this iconic building into a new educational facility on Kitt Peak,” said Chris Davis, NSF Program Officer for NOIRLab. “Through the Windows on the Universe Center, NSF’s NOIRLab will be better able to share the awesome results of US astronomy facilities across the globe.”

Kitt Peak National Observatory and the McMath-Pierce facility are located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tucson, Arizona, in the Schuk Toak district on Tohono O’odham Nation land. Windows on the Universe and its exhibits are being developed in consultation with educators and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation. We are privileged to conduct research on Ioligam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) and acknowledge the Tohono O’odham Nation as the original stewards of these lands.

At present, Kitt Peak National Observatory is closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Kitt Peak Visitor Center could reopen on-site nighttime programs to the public in November 2021 and daytime programs could return in spring 2022, if conditions allow.

Learn more about Windows on the Universe in a recent Live from NOIRLab online presentation by Bill Buckingham called Opening Your Windows On The Universe.

News Related


Space industry grapples with COVID-19-related oxygen fuel shortage

A pandemic-related shortage of a key rocket propellant, liquid oxygen, could force rocket launches to be postponed in coming months, possibly delaying important scientific and national defense missions, industry observers ... Read more »

Gaofen 5-02 satellite launched from Taiyuan

China launched the Gaofen 5-02 Earth-observation satellite on Tuesday morning at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province, according to the China National Space Administration. The administration said the ... Read more »

Largest virtual universe free for anyone to explore

Forget about online games that promise you a “whole world” to explore. An international team of researchers has generated an entire virtual UNIVERSE, and made it freely available on the ... Read more »

Laser solid-phase synthesis of single atom catalysts

Laser fabrication of nanoparticles offers a powerful and flexible alternative to the purely chemical approaches. In recent years, laser synthesized precious metal nanoparticles are becoming increasingly important in catalysis due ... Read more »

Kleos secures A$12.6 million to grow constellation

Kleos Space S.A, a space-powered Radio Frequency Reconnaissance data-as-a- service (DaaS) company, has secured A$12.6 million (equivalent to 9.3 million USD) from new and existing institutional and sophisticated investors in ... Read more »

Eutelsat completes OneWeb equity investment

Eutelsat Communications confirms the closing of its $550m equity investment in OneWeb announced on April 27, 2021. Subject to completion of the subsequently announced investments in OneWeb by Bharti and ... Read more »

Global computing's carbon footprint is bigger than previously estimated

The world is more online than ever before, and as the digital economy continues to expand, so does the Internet’s carbon footprint. According to a new study, published Friday in ... Read more »

Smoke alarm, burning smell disrupt crew on International Space Station

Russian cosmonauts woke up to an emergency alarm Thursday in one of their service modules at the International Space Station. Audio from NASA’s television feed caught a French astronaut identifying ... Read more »

NASA works to give satellite swarms a hive mind

Swarms of small satellites could communicate amongst themselves to collect data on important weather patterns at different times of the day or year, and from multiple angles. Such swarms, using ... Read more »

New ALMA receivers achieve first light, set record for observational capabilities

new set of receivers installed on antennas at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have achieved first light. With it, they set a new record for the longest wavelengths visible ... Read more »

Crews at Russian Cosmodrome assemble spacecraft with VR Glasses

Virtual reality glasses are used by the military units of the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Russia to train to assemble space rockets, St. Petersburg-based Mozhaisky Military Space Academy told reporters on ... Read more »

Satellite in sun's backyard unravels the origins of interplanetary dust

What do shooting stars and astronaut safety have in common? Both stem from the sub-microscopic rock fragments found throughout the solar system, sometimes called interplanetary dust. When these particles collide ... Read more »

NASA awards launch services contract for GOES-U Mission

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U (GOES-U) mission. GOES-U will provide advanced imagery and atmospheric measurements ... Read more »

DARPA announces research teams to advance fundamental science of atomic vapors

DARPA has announced its selection of eight industry and university research teams to support the Science of Atomic Vapors for New Technologies (SAVaNT) program that kicked off this week. The ... Read more »

DLR Lampoldshausen prepares P5 test stand for the technologies of the future

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is preparing a central component of its extensive test infrastructure for the future by expanding the European Space Agency ... Read more »

Protective equipment against radiation to be tested on Nauka Module on ISS in 2023

New equipment that will help protect people from radiation during interplanetary flights will be tested on the Russian Nauka multipurpose laboratory module at the International Space Station, the head of ... Read more »

German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer is ready for his first ISS mission - 'Cosmic Kiss'

At the end of October 2021, the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, together with the NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas H. Marshburn and Kayla Barron, are expected to launch to ... Read more »

Astronomers nail down the origins of rare loner dwarf galaxies

By definition, dwarf galaxies are small and dim, with just a fraction of the stars found in the Milky Way and other galaxies. There are, however, giants among the dwarfs: ... Read more »

Rocket flight to sharpen NASA's study of the Sun

It’s best not to look directly at the Sun, unless you’re one of NASA’s Sun-observing instruments. And even then, doing so will cause some damage. Exposure to the Sun degrades ... Read more »

Diamonds in the sky

Scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Rutgers University have used simple concepts from granular physics to explain the curious diamond shapes of two ... Read more »

Planetary radar observes 1,000th near-earth asteroid since 1968

Seven days after this historic milestone, a massive antenna at NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone complex imaged another, far larger object. On Aug. 14, 2021, a small near-Earth asteroid (NEA) ... Read more »

Physicists discover black holes exert a pressure in serendipitous scientific first

Physicists at the University of Sussex have discovered that black holes exert a pressure on their environment, in a scientific first. In 1974 Stephen Hawking made the seminal discovery that ... Read more »

ESA Council agrees resolution on Ariane 6 and Vega-C exploitation and future space transportation

ESA Member States have agreed upon the boundary conditions for Europe’s upcoming exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C and request ESA to propose a roadmap for new and innovative space ... Read more »

The Sun's 11-year cycle cannot explain global warming

The Earth’s global climate system fluctuates in 11-year and 3, 5-year cycles find Yizhak Feliks, Justin Small and Michael Ghil. The study was published in Climate Dynamics on July 15th. ... Read more »

Leak and destroy: On the hunt for climate killing gas

After finding a rusty gas canister near his midwest US home, Rick Karas checked online if it was worth anything. Incredibly, it turned out to be a coveted commodity in ... Read more »

Ariane 5 elements for Webb launch reach Europe's Spaceport

Major elements of the Ariane 5 rocket to launch the James Webb Space Telescope arrived safely in Kourou, French Guiana from Europe on 3 September 2021. The rocket’s fairing, upper ... Read more »

Parker Solar Probe team sheds new light on structure, behavior of inner solar system dust

Scientists using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe have assembled a comprehensive picture of the structure and behavior of the large cloud of space dust that swirls through the innermost ... Read more »

Astronomers explain origin of elusive ultradiffuse galaxies

As their name suggests, ultradiffuse galaxies, or UDGs, are dwarf galaxies whose stars are spread out over a vast region, resulting in extremely low surface brightness, making them very difficult ... Read more »

Antennas searching for ET threatened by wildfire

The Allen Telescope Array, an ensemble of 42 antennas used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), is once again threatened by wildfires. The scientists and engineers normally on-site have ... Read more »

Earthlike planets in other solar systems? Look for moons

Finding an exact copy of the Earth somewhere in the universe sounds like a far-fetched notion, but scientists believe that because Earth happened in our solar system, something similar is ... Read more »

China releases first batch of gamma photon data from dark matter explorer

China has released the first batch of gamma photon data obtained by the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), according to Science and Technology Daily on Wednesday. The National Space Science ... Read more »

ESO captures best images yet of peculiar "dog-bone" asteroid

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), a team of astronomers have obtained the sharpest and most detailed images yet of the asteroid Kleopatra. The observations have ... Read more »

New wave of electron research

While studying the behavior of electrons in iron-based superconducting materials, researchers at the University of Tokyo observed a strange signal relating to the way electrons are arranged. The signal implies ... Read more »

D-Orbit UK signs contract with ESA for development of debris removal technology

The UK branch of D-Orbit signed a euro 2,197M contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for phase 1 of the development and in-orbit demonstration of a “Deorbit Kit” as ... Read more »

Independent group formed to advance interoperability in satellite and ground system networks

Leading companies and organizations in the space industry, including two major branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, have come together to form the Digital IF Interoperability (DIFI) Consortium, a ... Read more »

Putting a new theory of many-particle quantum systems to the test

New experiments using trapped one-dimensional gases-atoms cooled to the coldest temperatures in the universe and confined so that they can only move in a line-fit with the predictions of the ... Read more »

Chinese astronauts out of spacecraft for second time EVA

Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming had both slipped out of the space station core module Tianhe by 10:12 a.m. (Beijing Time) on Friday to conduct extravehicular activities (EVAs) ... Read more »

Computers help scientists understand the particles that make up atoms

Scientists use particle accelerators to speed up electrically charged particles to nearly the speed of light. They then smash those particles together to study the new particles that form, including ... Read more »

A few steps closer to Europa: spacecraft hardware makes headway

The hardware that makes up NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is rapidly taking shape, as engineering components and instruments are prepared for delivery to the main clean room at the agency’s ... Read more »

Meteosat Gen 3 takes major step towards its first launch

After many technical and programmatic challenges, the first satellite of the next generation of the Meteosat family has taken a major step towards its first flight, currently scheduled for launch ... Read more »