Arizona wildfire may spare Kitt Peak National Observatory’s telescopes

Located in the mountains outside Tucson, Arizona, the Kitt Peak National Observatory was threatened last week by the ongoing Contreras Fire. While the blaze has affected more than 20,000 acres and disrupted work at the facility, the major scientific equipment seems to be thus far unscathed.

The scientific community feared the worst, but over the weekend, the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), the organization that operates the site, had good news to share. “All physical scientific observatory structures are still standing,” NOIRLab said in a tweet spotted by Gizmodo. However, in a later press release, the organization said the fire destroyed four support buildings on June 17th.

The facility’s official Twitter account said NOIRLab staff would have to conduct a thorough assessment of the observatory grounds to determine the extent of the full damage caused by the inferno. “This process will likely take weeks,” the account tweeted. “Restoration of services (power, etc) may take even longer.” 

The telescopes aren’t safe just yet. The Contreras Fire continues to blaze in and around the area of the Kitt Peak National Observatory. As of Monday, 350 firefighters were working to contain the fire, according to the Arizona Emergency Information Network.

The potential destruction of Kitt Peak comes a little more than a year after the Arecibo Observatory's receiver platform collapsed into its iconic 1,000-foot wide antenna. Puerto Rico has pledged $8 million to rebuild the telescope, but the future of the facility is unclear. Kitt Peak may be less famous than Arecibo but it's no less important. The facility's Mayall telescope is the seventh-largest optical telescope in the US and was used to discover methane ice on Pluto back when it was considered a planet.

Original source: