1.6-Meter Heliostat of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope is the largest solar instrument in the world with an unobstructed aperture of 1.6 meters. The structure includes a 100-feet high tower from which a shaft slants two hundred feet to the ground. The shaft continues underground forming a tunnel where the sun is viewed at the prime focus. The primary mirror along with two smaller mirrors are mounted in a large heliostat atop the tower which collects light and directs it down the tunnel. Unlike other solar telescopes, the McMath-Pierce is sensitive enough to observe bright stars in the night.

The McMath-Pierce is used to study the structure and spectra of sunspots. These are cooler regions in the Sun's photosphere that appear dark and irregular in shaped.

Important discoveries revealed with this telescope include: a detection of water and isotopic helium in the sun; solar emission lines at 12 microns; first measurement of Kilogauss magnetic fields outside sunspots and the very weak intra-network fields; first high resolution images at 1.6 and 10 microns; detection of a natural maser in the Martian atmosphere.

(Text adapted from Kitt Peak Virtual Tour )

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