MGIO Journal

This page is a collection of vignettes which we hope that you will find interesting!

October 23, 2014 -- Partial Solar Eclipse from Discovery Park

On October 23, 2014 a partial solar eclipse was observed using the Gov Aker Observatory at the Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park Campus.  The Observatory has a DayStar Hydrogen Alpha (Hα) filter which provides very impressive views of the Sun.  This specialized filter system is attached to the 5" refractor of the Gov Aker Observatory.  With a Hα filter fine solar details, such as prominences and filaments, are visible.  During the eclipse the Sun sported a very large sunspot group near the center, adding to the show!  Several of the Desert Skygazers operated the telescope during the eclipse.  A few members of the public dropped by to enjoy the views of the eclipse through this research-class observatory.  Also in attendance were participants of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) planning meeting that occured at Discovery Park at the same time; they got to see a STEM event as part of their STEM meeting! 

Below are images of the open dome and persons looking through the telescope at the eclipse.  Also below is an image of the eclipse itself.  The eclipse image was taken with a small hand-held camera which was held up to the eyepiece - hardly the ideal way to take an astronomy image.  But, in the image you can see the Moon covering the Sun on the right, the large sunspot group to the left center, and filaments across the surface of the Sun.  The sun appears red-pink as this is the specific Hα color the filter system allows through.  The image seen by observers was much sharper and better than captured in this image.  A great time was had by all!!


Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23, 2014.  Observer Looking Through Telescope at Eclipse.





Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23, 2014.  Open Dome During Eclipse.




Partial Solar Eclipse of October 23, 2014.  Hand-Held Image Through Eyepiece.

September 25, 2014 -- Preparing for Winter on Mount Graham

Work is underway to get ready for the winter season that will be here all too soon.  The temperate summit temperatures will soon give way to bone chilling cold and snow.  The snow plows and other heavy equipment are getting their final exhaustive checks to make sure they are ready to move the many tons of snow that are certain to fall on the roads.  It is interesting to look back and remember what we experienced last year at the astronomy site.

The chart below is a record of the winter 2013-2014 snowfalls at the astronomy site.  After each snowfall the crew would use a gauge to record the depth of the snowfall and add that to a chart.  This past winter they recorded a total of 47” of snowfall.  Anecdotally the snowfall should be much higher, 200” being about normal.  Less than ¼ of normal means that the past winter was very dry indeed. 



One of the MGIO crew members is a self-appointed prognosticator of when the first meaningful snowfall will occur on Mount Graham.  The first question is to define what a meaningful snowfall is.  Being a scientific organization, we had to come to a careful understanding of this in precise terms -- it was decided that greater than a half-inch of accumulation meets the mark of a meaningful snowfall.  Last year the prediction was the first meaningful snowfall would occur on November 14, 2013.  The first such snowfall occurred on November 24, 2013, so the prediction was fairly close!  This year the in-house expert is predicting the first meaningful snowfall will occur on November 12, 2014.  It will be interesting to see how close the first actual snowfall comes to this prediction!  Do you have a guess?!

November 13, 2013 -- Moonlight on the SMT

The SMT observes the heavens under the soft glow of moonlight, with the LBT in the background:

Photograph courtesy of Paul Schulz


October 8, 2013 -- A Window To The Universe

A conversation as evening twilight darkens, with the LBT right side shutter open in the background:


Photograph courtesy of Craig Nance





September 17, 2013 -- Mount Graham Fire Danger...LOW!

The United States Forest Service maintains a sign just past base camp which provides their assessment of the fire danger on Mount Graham.  The picture below speaks for itself:


Smokey the Bear,September 17, 2013

For comparison, below is an image of the sign at the peak of the fire season, just a few months prior:

Smokey the Bear, May 29, 2013




August 21, 2013 -- Removal of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) Primary Mirror

A few weeks ago the VATT mirror was removed from its telescope.  This was so that the mirror could be taken to Tucson for a new coating.  The picture below shows the mirror being lifted out of the dome by a large crane.



Vatican Primary Mirror Removal  --  Photo courtesy of Brian Fields


July 3, 2013 - Moving the Crane Up the Mountain!!

One critical maintenance task for astronomical telescopes is to recoat their primary mirrors.  On the front surface of the mirror is an extremely thin coating of aluminum - only approximately 500 atoms thick!  Over time that reflective coating becomes weathered and dirty and must be replaced.  Telescopes do this in many different ways.  In the case of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), its large primary mirror is removed from the telescope and transported to Tucson.  At Steward Observatory the old coating is carefully removed from the glass, the glass cleaned with utmost care, and a new reflective coating applied.  Due to the specialized nature of the recoating equipment, and the general rarity that they are needed, these facilities are not built into every observatory site.  The problem then becomes how to remove a very large, fragile mirror from the telescope?  The solution is to use a crane.  A large crane!  How large:



MGIO Drott Crane on its Cozad Trailer

MGIO's Drott 30-ton hydraulic crane is perfect!  Normally this crane is kept at the MGIO Base Camp, as it is rarely needed and requires a lot of parking space.  So, when the crane is needed at the summit it is loaded into a large trailer, a Cozad heavy equipment trailer to be precise, and hauled up.  Although it is a "mobile" crane, it was never intended to drive 26 miles uphill to over 10,000' on a state highway.  Moving a crane of this size requires a lot of planning and preparation.  The crane and other equipment must be checked out in advance to ensure no breakdowns occur during the trip, staff must be scheduled, permits must be obtained, the crane loaded on the trailer, all with a particular date and time in mind.  If anything unexpected happens, the entire trip would have to be scrubbed and re-planned from scratch.  This journey has been months in the making. 

At dawn on July 3 the caravan began the journey.  Along with the crane on a trailer were two support vehicles and three University of Arizona Police Department vehicles:

MGIO Crane Caravan

The journey is a slow one.  Speeds of 5 to 10 miles per hour, with occasional stops to check the equipment and make adjustments based on grade.  Driving a vehicle this large, with this much weight, and on roads this steep and winding requires the utmost in skill.  The caravan keeps and eye out for passing motorists to help them get around the crane safely and timely so that they are not held-up excessively. 



MGIO Crane Caravan at Marijilda Canyon

After 4-1/2 hours and 25.8 miles the caravan arrives at a bend in the road called Post Creek.  The road becomes too sharp for the trailer to go any further.  The crane is unloaded from the trailer and will be driven under its own power the rest of the way.  The crane is driven the approximately final three miles and is parked adjacent to the VATT building. 



Drott Crane at VATT

With the crane on-site, the removal of the VATT telescope primary mirror will begin in the near future.  The mirror will soon make its trip to Tucson, get a new coating, return, be reinstalled, and be ready for observing.  Ultimately the views of the Universe obtained by the VATT will be restored to perfect clarity thanks to a new coating.  Many of the things we do in astronomy has these intersting interconnections - clearer views of the Universe thanks to the skill of observatory staff to move a giant crane to over 10,000'.


 June 30 2013 – Remembering the Granite Mountain Hotshots

On Sunday June 30, while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire northwest of Phoenix, 19 firefighters lost their lives.  Their names and ages are listed below.  These firefighters were part of an elite team, often referred to as “hotshots,” that willingly brave the most challenging of wild fires to save homes and property.  Due to reasons that are not yet fully understood, but likely due to a sudden and unexpected shift in the weather, they were overcome by the fire.  This was the deadliest day for firefighters since 9/11/2001 and the greatest loss of life at a single wild land fire since 1933.  This incident killed approximately 20% of the entire Prescott Fire Department.  These were mostly young men in the prime of life, seeking to do good for others. 

This tragedy hits very close to home for everyone that works to support the Astronomical facilities located in Arizona.  Firefighters, from throughout Arizona, have fought to save observatories when fire has threatened them.  Some of our observatory staff are trained in wild land firefighting and occasionally serve with professional firefighters.  Our staff regularly coordinate with wild land fire agencies to discuss scenarios and plan for a major fire that may threaten one of our observatories.  We work side by side with them during incidents, and often see them in our communities and get to know them as friends in the process.  We see them driving fire trucks to a fire while all others are heading away.  Through these interactions many of our staff fully understand firefighting as a dangerous and unforgiving endeavor, we appreciate what they do, and we are grateful beyond words for them. 


Clearly this tragedy hits their families hardest of all.  There are a number of funds that have been established to provide support to their families.  In particular, the 100 Club of Arizona has established a fund for these fallen heroes.  The 100 Club of Arizona was founded by and is for those in uniform that serve the public.  The 100 Club was established in 1968 in order to ease the pain of the families of those in fire, public safety or law enforcement who are injured or killed in the line-of-duty.  If you wish to give, please consider the 100 Club of Arizona:

Donating to the 100 Club of Arizona can also be done through the Combined Federal Campaign (42229), the United Way (8110) and other similar programs. 

Names of firefighters lost at Yarnell Hill:

-- Andrew Ashcraft, 29
-- Kevin Woyjeck, 21
-- Anthony Rose, 23
-- Eric Marsh, 43
-- Christopher MacKenzie, 30
-- Robert Caldwell, 23
-- Clayton Whitted, 28
-- Scott Norris, 28
-- Dustin Deford, 24
-- Sean Misner, 26
-- Garret Zuppiger, 27
-- Travis Carter, 31
-- Grant McKee, 21
-- Travis Turbyfill, 27
-- Jesse Steed, 36
-- Wade Parker, 22
-- Joe Thurston, 32
-- William Warneke, 25
-- John Percin, 24


On Behalf of the Astronomical Observatories located in the State of Arizona

Charles Alcock, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Timothy Beers, Kitt Peak National Observatory
Emilio Falco, Whipple Observatory
Jose Funes, Vatican Observatory
Jeffrey Hall, Lowell Observatory
Buell Jannuzi, Steward Observatory
Craig Nance, Mt. Graham International Observatory
Bob Peterson, Steward Observatory
Paul Shankland, U. S. Naval Observatory
David Silva, National Optical Astronomy Observatories
Tim Swindle, Lunar and Planetary Lab
Christian Veillet, Large Binocular Telescope Observatory
Grant Williams, MMT Observatory
Lucy Ziurys, Arizona Radio Observatory




July 2, 2013 -- MGIO Base Camp flag at

half-staff in tribute to the Yarnell Hill Fire victims


June 24, 2013  Drought on Mount Graham

This summer has been extremely dry as drought conditions continue unabated.  Due to severe drought conditions on Mount Graham, and also the entire southeast Arizona region, on June 24, 2013 the US Forest Service issued Stage 2 fire restrictions. This results in a greater list of activities restrictions than previously.  

The United States Forest Service "Smokey the Bear" sign just past Base Camp speaks for itself...

 Smokey the Bear May 29, 2013


Please see our older journal entries as well!