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Kitt Peak update after June wildfire

Kitt Peak update from July 21, 2022

Update from June 18, 2022

Good news! Wildfire Today reported late in the afternoon on June 18 that all of the 20+ telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona survived the wildfire that struck the site this week. However, four non-scientific buildings burned. Read more from Wildfire Today.

Kitt Peak: Radio telescope dish in deep red haze with bright fire on left.
This is the haunting last image from one of the webcams on Kitt Peak National Observatory in southern Arizona, a premier site for U.S. astronomy. The image is from early in the morning on June 17, 2022, shortly before the webcams stopped working. Image via Kitt Peak.

Update from June 17, 2022

The wildfire reached Kitt Peak National Observatory early this morning. Firefighters and NOIRLab (which runs the site) are still working to assess the damages. NOIRLab said on Friday afternoon:

Around 2 a.m. MST Friday morning, the fire, contrary to the expectations of the firecrews, crested the southwest ridge where the Hiltner 2.4-meter Telescope, McGraw-Hill 1.3-meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array Dish and UArizona 12-meter Telescope are located. Because of the ongoing nature of the situation, it is currently not possible to assess whether any damage to the structures has occurred. We will report any damage as soon as possible.

Wildfire at Kitt Peak

A wildfire in southern Arizona is threatening Kitt Peak and its many astronomical observatories. The Contreras Fire, burning outside Tucson, began with a lightning strike on June 11, 2022, in steep and rugged terrain. Hot, dry winds from the south-southwest pushed the fire toward Kitt Peak, which shut down and evacuated all staff on Wednesday, June 15. As of this morning, June 17, NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management website showed the fire on the flanks of Kitt Peak. The Kitt Peak webcams were working Thursday evening but were out of order by Friday morning.

NOIRLab, which operates Kitt Peak National Observatory, said on Thursday:

The firefighters are dropping large amounts of fire retardant on the southern end of the observatory in an effort to slow the advance. In addition, the firefighters are focusing on removing brush on the slopes and have spotters watching for hotspots. The key instruments have been covered with protective wraps and other packaging. The optics on the large telescopes have been covered to protect them from smoke and falling ash.

Kitt Peak is 55 miles (88 km) to the west of Tucson. The high temperature on Thursday in Tucson was 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 C).

Images from Kitt Peak

Incredible footage from the Contreras fire

Bottom line: A wildfire reached Kitt Peak on July 17, 2022. As of July 21, Kitt Peak National Observatory is now working toward restoring the site so operations can continue.

Read more: Wildfire risk will rise, UN report says

July 22, 2022

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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