VIP7 Rock solid

Even though it looks sturdy enough, the granite upon which the Mayall 4-meter telescope is built, and on which all other Kitt Peak telescopes reside, is in a constant state of mechanical and chemical disintegration. This problem is particularly acute at the base of the Mayall telescope, because the granite here contains iron- and copper-sulfide minerals. Chemical breakdown of these sulfide minerals produces sulfuric acid, which in turn hastens

Concrete sprayed onto the rocky knoll beneath the Mayall 4-meter telescope to halt the effects of weathering becomes a victim of weather, too, peeling away to expose the crumbly Kitt Peak granite. Photo by GBA.

decomposition of the other minerals in the rock. In order to stabilize the footing of the 4-meter telescope, the rock has been sprayed with a coating of concrete (you can see this from the road below the telescope). But the forces of nature are relentless; you can see that the concrete itself is weathering, like skin peeling off of a bad sunburn. Further evidence of geologic wasting can be seen about two-thirds of the way down the mountain on a west-facing slope. The white "polka dots" on the steep rock face are actually anchors holding large slabs of rock to the mountainside. If the slabs should give way, a large debris slide could start that would be very difficult to halt. Exposure to temperature changes, water freezing and thawing, even plant roots working their way into crevices, combined with gravity, work to break the rock apart. These are some of the challenges presented to construction on Kitt Peak.

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