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McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope

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Management, Operations, and Associated Projects for the National Solar Observatory  (AURA/National Optical Astronomy Observatories)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

Located on Kitt Peak, a mountain southwest of Tucson, Arizona, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope is the largest solar instrument in the world and the largest unobstructed-aperture optical telescope in the world. It is capable of high-precision solar observations, spectroscopy, and polarimetry as well as atmospheric monitoring and spectroscopy.  McMath-Pierce is also the only solar telescope in the world that routinely supports investigations in relatively unexplored infrared wavelengths beyond 2.5 microns.

McMath-Pierce is primarily used to study sunspots and their spectra and has taken exceptionally detailed images of sunspots. The telescope was used to detect water and isotopic helium in the sun; to take the first measurement of Kilogauss magnetic fields outside sunspots; and to discover a natural maser in the atmosphere of Mars.

The complex consists of three telescopes in one--the main, east auxiliary, and west auxiliary mirror systems--which can be used concurrently or independently.  Adaptive optics help correct for image distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere.

The telescope is part of the National Solar Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.  NSO shares the Kitt Peak site with the Kitt Peak National Observatory for optical astronomy.

Education & Outreach

The facilities of the National Solar Observatory offer numerous education and outreach opportunities. McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope participates in NSO programs to provide hands-on education and training for all levels of students and teachers as well as educational materials for classroom use.

The activities include the computer-based Data and Activities for Solar Learning for use in the classroom; "Ask Mr. Sunspot!"--a solar system model; and NSF-supported Research Experiences for Teachers, in which K-12 teachers conduct hands-on research at the observatory, alongside professional astronomers and engineers.

For higher education students, the observatory offers the opportunity to study and train with professional mentors--through NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and summer research assistantships for graduate students.

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