Back in 1955, when looking for a site for a national observatory, astronomers realized very quickly that the Desert Southwest would be a good location. It was already known that the sunniest location in the continental United States was the area around Yuma, Arizona, so logically the best location should be on the most suitable mountain near Yuma.
In addition to clear dark skies, astronomers also needed a location near a city with a university to provide technical support for the observatory. After several years of testing the seeing, which is an astronomer's technical way of measuring the amount of twinkling, Kitt Peak was selected. Even though there was no road to the base of Kitt Peak (let alone to the summit) at the time, the first research telescope was operational in 1960.
Although most people do not give any thought to light pollution, our casual lighting of the skies over cities means that most people in the western world no longer can see the true beauty of the night sky. In large cities, only the Moon and the brightest planets and stars can be seen, which is very unlike the 6000 or more stars visible from a very dark location. The city of Tucson - with help from astronomers and the International Dark Sky Association - has led the way in enacting lighting ordinances that protect the night sky. Although Tucson has grown rapidly since Kitt Peak was founded, the sky over Kitt Peak is still relatively dark. There is almost as much light from Phoenix, over 100 miles away, as there is from Tucson.
Despite all the help provided by the city of Tucson, the sky over Kitt Peak probably will not be suitable for some types of astronomy within the next decade or so. Mount Hopkins and Mount Graham are in much darker locations, and will be good for astronomy longer than Kitt Peak.
If you would like to support the goal of reclaiming our night sky from polluters - and it can be done without sacrificing the safety of night lighting - you can get more information and contact details from the website of the International Dark Sky Association: http://www.darksky.org/.
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