Astronomy prof defends Mt. Graham site


The discussion of Mt. Graham Observatory in (Thursday's) letters show that those who do not want to understand are still trying to push their fuzzy mindedness onto everyone else.

Mt. Graham is a truly remarkable astronomical site. A good site must have both good conditions and good access. Alone of the current international observatories, Mt. Graham has both. We can see from the history of the Hubble telescope what it means to have a telescope which is in a wonderful site but is very inaccessible for repair. We can see from looking through the telescopes on campus the problems of having easy access to a site which has much light pollution and relatively fuzzy images.

An important advantage of Mt. Graham as an astronomical site is that access from a key astronomical research center (Tucson) and from its airport is excellent. Congress permits using up to 7 telescope sites in 24 acres total and the image sharpness fom all of them is good. For some it even surpasses that on Mt. Hopkins summit which is already used up by the MMT (other parts of Hopkins are far poorer). The light pollution on Graham is far less and predicted to stay much less than other good sites like Hopkins. The added hekght makes the site extremely good for infrared astronomy, which is a specialty of local astronomers. The cloud cover is similar to the other local telescopes, such as that which made Kitt Peak a national center.

The designs of the telescopes built and to be built on Mt. Graham aer all highly sophisticated. The Large Binocular Telescope will have about 8 times the light gathering power of the current Multiple Mirror Telescope, 5 1/2 times that of the Palomar telescope and over three times the power of the MMT conversion now underway. And if you wonder why more telescopes of greater area are needed, you should attend a meeting where we try to divide up the time on existing telescopes between many users and many worthwhile projects.

The price is that about 2/10 of 1 percent of the possible squirrel use areas on Mt. Graham will instead become telescope use areas. We stand to have one less squirrel. This squirrel is a local population of a thriving sub-species of one of the most abundant species in the entire continent. The red squirrel species is as little threatened as cats and dogs. The listing of the Mt. Graham squirrel was clearly not about saving species but about stopping telescopes.

Nick Woolf

Astronomy Professor

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