Photography Club connects with the stars at Fred Whipple Observatory

Robert Thoresen

Approximately a dozen members of the Quail Creek Photography Club packed their lunches and took in the six hour tour of the Fred Whipple Observatory on June 13. Whipple docent and PCQC member John Hockemeier hosted the tour and provided additional narration during the shuttle ride up the 12 mile road from the visitors’ center to the working research center at the 8500’ mountain top. In 1966 road work began at the current site with the first telescope, a 10 meter gamma ray telescope, in place by 1968. Currently there are seven telescopes on the mountain top, two which have been decommissioned. The Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT) is housed in the structure one sees from Quail Creek. Three smaller reflector telescopes and an eight telescope exoplanet hunting array are nestled below the MMT at about 7000’ along with service and dormitory buildings. A four set array of gamma ray telescopes are located at the visitors’ center. The tour focuses on the 6.5 meter MMT and the smaller 1.5 meter Tillinghast reflector telescope.

The original MMT was conceived in the 1960s. Its six mirrors were manufactured by Corning and polished at the University of Arizona Mirror Lab. The telescope was dedicated in 1979. It became fully operational on site in 1981. At that time it was considered the third largest mirror telescope on earth. The newer 6.5 meter MMT was manufactured at the University of Arizona and installed in 2000. Its single primary mirror, 6.5 meters in diameter, is composed of 10 tons of glass in a concave form. Telescope size ratings are constantly changing and it currently has a world ranking of about fourteenth largest.

Club members found the experience a much needed respite from the 103F degree heat of Green Valley. Lunch was taken at about 8000’ elevation in picnic grounds located in a ponderosa pine grove. The temperature was 80F with a mild breeze. The views were spectacular but haze prevented any attempt of providing pictures of Quail Creek in the distance.

The Photography Club of Quail Creek (PCQC) is a chartered club designed for residents of all levels of photographic skill. For current events and details of club activities visit the club’s website at Due to the growth in club membership, monthly meetings will continue through the summer on the second Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the Gold Room at the Madera Clubhouse.