The Calypso telescope. The housing that shelters the telescope slides off on rails. Photo courtesy of Adeline Caulet. The newest general-purpose telescope on the mountain is the 1.2-meter Calypso telescope, which is clearly visible from the road to the summit, but difficult to spot from the top. It is located
below the WIYN telescope, and the access road is marked "Private." However, any visitor wishing to learn more about the telescope can leave a message for the resident astronomer at the front desk in the administration building. This observatory is privately funded.
In 1991 a group of engineers who had worked on the Hubble space telescope wanted to build a telescope with the highest possible spatial resolution in the optical range. They needed a very good site, such as Kitt Peak, along with very good control of the temperature of the telescope. The building rolls off to the north end of the platform (you can see the rails from the road), leaving the telescope completely in the open when observations are under way. The mirror size was determined by the characteristic size of the bubbles of warm air on that part of Kitt Peak, to optimize the performance of the telescope. In addition, a simple adaptive optics system (similar to that on the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope) was installed, so that the telescope performs regularly near the theoretical best that can be achieved. Although adaptive optics systems have been installed on many large telescopes around the world, most of them operate in the infrared. Calypso is one of a very small group of telescopes to operate an adaptive optics system at optical wavelengths.
It is used mainly for observing globular clusters, and particularly the dense concentrations of stars near their centers. Globular clusters are compact groups of a million or so stars that orbit our Galaxy. By studying their properties, astronomers can investigate the history of the Milky Way. The adaptive optics system is crucial for observations of these objects because the stars are packed so tightly together it would otherwise be hard to see individual stars near their centers. The telescope has been used for long-term studies of variable stars in clusters; the variability is related to phases of the evolution of the stars. Because the stars are packed so densely (a million inside a sphere whose radius is about the same as the distance from the Sun to its nearest neighbor star!), they interact with each other in ways not seen anywhere else in the Galaxy.
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