Kitt Peak National Observatory will need “significant repairs” as several astronomers return to the site to help it recover from wildfire damage, the governing body said in a statement.
Essential personnel are returning to the observatory in Arizona to assess damage caused by a massive wildfire that engulfed the mountainous area in June, officials at the National Science Foundation’s National Optical-Infrared Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), which operates the observatory, said. statement (will open in a new tab) Thursday (21 July).
The fire required firefighting efforts using both helicopters and aircraft, leaving all of the telescope domes in place. At least four other buildings fell into the fire. However, it will take the experience of astronomers to determine how much damage was caused to the object as a result of the fire in Contreras, representatives of NOIRLab write.
“Damage to interiors, especially telescopes, instruments and other scientific infrastructure, will only become known once telescope teams have been able to spend more time on site,” the statement said. “The total cost of restoring the functions of the observatory is also not yet known.”
Related: Satellites watch devastating fires in northern New Mexico
The conditions at the peak are by no means normal. NOIRLab said in a statement power was unavailable at the site and likely to remain so for several weeks as observatory staff work with the Tohono O’odham Community Authority to install power lines, pylons and data services.
The statement said the road to the observatory is only open to essential personnel after consultation with local emergency teams. The public will not be able to visit until normal scientific activity resumes and NOIRLab receives approval from the Arizona Department of Transportation, officials said.
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Kitt Peak isn’t the only astronomical object to have experienced blazes, as wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense due to ongoing human-induced global warming. Other observatories have survived a close encounter with a wildfire before this one.
Examples include a fire in California that swept within miles of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Allen Telescope Array in September 2021, and a separate fire that invaded near Mount Wilson Observatory, also in California, in September 2020.
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