Information for Visiting Observers
information on this page is intended exclusively for users
of the F. L. Whipple Observatory who are conducting
professional astronomical research.
Here are some
of the MOST IMPORTANT items regarding your observing run. Many of these are intended for
first-time observers, but it is advisable to review them from
time to time, as we update the features periodically. If
you find errors or if you have suggestions, please let us
know (see below for contact information).
FLWO switched to a VoIP phone system in November 2011. There are
more numbers now and many more capabilities such as caller ID and
A directory with current numbers is available here
(pdf, accessible only from FLWO and CfA).
From any FLWO phone, you need only dial the last 4 digits of another
Make dorm reservations, preferably two weeks in advance of your
arrival, for the Summit or Ridge dormitory. As of December 2018, the
cost of a room for non-SAO observers is $50 per night. Reserve your
room by e-mailing:
Make sure to ask Pascal for the combinations to the doors
Pascal Fortin : pafortin(at)cfa(dot)harvard(dot)edu
Transportation to the Observatory:
Flights: Make your travel arrangements through your respective
institution's Travel Department or agency.
Taxi Service or Car Rental at the Airport: Out-of-town visitors may
consider renting a car if scheduled on the mountain for 3 days
or less. The rental car cost is generally less than the
round-trip taxi of $130, plus tip. For observers scheduled on the
mountain more than 3 days, you will want to read the following
regarding the taxi service to the Administrative Complex (Basecamp).
The physical address for FLWO is:
F. L. Whipple Observatory
670 Mt. Hopkins Rd.
Amado, AZ 85645
For deliveries of packages by UPS or FedEx, use the
For postal deliveries, the address is:
F. L. Whipple Observatory
P.O. Box 6369
Amado, AZ 85645
This is a small business that will pick you up at the airport, stop
at a grocery store in Green Valley and drive you to the
Administrative Complex for a total trip time of two hours. The taxi
service does NOT drive you to the telescopes
on the mountain.
At least two days prior to the requested service, call April Van der Pohl
at April's Transportation Services, (520) 596-9743. If
necessary, leave a message for with your name, phone
number, airline, flight number and arrival/departure times.
It is your responsibility to make a reservation with the taxi
service. Call regarding any changes to your trip
schedule or to cancel out. Taxi reservations that are not
cancelled will be billed to you.
Driving Between the Administrative Complex and Mt. Hopkins:
Your decision about driving your rental car or an observatory
vehicle (known as FLWO shuttles) should be based on weather and road
conditions, your compliance with the vehicle policy and your
confidence with driving on a narrow, unpaved, winding mountain road. To check road conditions, call
520-879-4422 for a recorded message.The message is updated only when
there is a change in road conditions.
Observatory visitors (including rental car users) are required to
read the Vehicle Operator's Guide. Prior to your visit, you must
comply with the Vehicle Policy. You may download these documents here. NOTE
MT. HOPKINS ROAD so you may need to use a 4-wheel drive
vehicle from the FLWO fleet. Visitors must review the policy; sign
the statement and, prior to their visit, email
it to the staff listed above.
FLWO has an all-digital radio system.
Please read the
User Manual (PDF) if you have any questions. Here is a
summary for handheld units:
Rental or Personal Vehicle Users:
- Turn on with the volume knob
- Verify the channel is 1, "Normal" or set it to 1, with the
- Use the large knob on the left side as a push-to-talk button
- When you leave, return handhelds to their chargers
- When returning a handheld to its charger, ensure that it is
seated correctly so the charger light is on (red for charging,
Ensure you know the gate combination (see below) and pick up a
hand-held VHF radio from the Administrative Complex. Radio chargers
are located in the Central office area on the upper level. Radios should be set to channel 1
(or "normal" on some radios).
If you do not have a driver's license or you are not confident about
driving on a narrow mountain road, you should arrange in advance
with your project, FLWO, or MMT staff for transportation round-trip
between the Administrative complex and one of the dorms.
Driving directions and maps:
For directions from the University of Arizona, see the Tucson Map.
For driving directions from Tucson visit this link,
which includes a map of the vicinity of
Layout of FLWO on Mt.
Gate and Building Keypad Combinations:
Be certain that you know the current lock combination for the gate
on Mt. Hopkins Road at km 13 and for the Administrative Complex
gate, as well as for the doors to the buildings. One
combination applies to all building locations, but not for the
gates. Please call the staff listed above for the
current numbers. Shuttles are equipped with remote openers mounted
on the driver's visor. They operate just like a garage opener: press
the button as you approach the gates from the outside (at km 13 and
at the Administrative Complex).
NOTE: ALL keypad combinations were changed on 01/11/14
NOTE: ALL gate (not building) combinations were changed on
Protecting all Telescopes from Vehicle
Headlights is crucial!
On the mountain:
It is imperative to keep the outside of the dorms as dark as
possible. Any outside lights must be turned off
whenever possible. In individual rooms and in common areas,
curtains must be closed at night. Lights in rooms or in common
areas must also be turned off when visitors are not in the dorms.
If you need to drive to a telescope after dark,
you should warn observers either by radio, or by telephone from the
Ridge dorm or the Common building at the bowl. It is about a
10-minute walk from each dorm to its corresponding telescope
(although the summit road is steeper and more challenging than the
At the basecamp:
The VERITAS collaboration operates four 12-meter telescopes at the
Basecamp. Their hours of operation are posted daily on a
whiteboard in the Basecamp Ready Room; typically they operate every
dark moonless night. A set of road-level LED lights will be
blinking, approximately one-half mile above and below the Basecamp
on the side of Mt. Hopins Road whenever VERITAS is operating.
Because the telescopes are extremely sensitive, they could be
damaged by passing headlights, day-time running lights and even
When VERITAS is operating, outside lights at the Basecamp must be
turned off, or kept to a minimum. VERITAS observers monitor
the FLWO radio system and can be contacted by phone at the VERITAS
control room, 520-879-4435. If you plan to enter or pass by
the Basecamp while VERITAS is in operation please make sure to
notify the observers in advance.
Other important information:
Food: The Observatory has no food service so you must buy
groceries on your way to the Administrative Complex in the
Sahuarita/Green Valley area. The Observatory maintains fully
equipped kitchens with a variety of staples such as coffee, flour,
margarine, and condiments. Outdoor grills are available. Kitchen users are responsible for
timely dishwashing and kitchen clean up.
If you are using the taxi service, your driver will stop at a
supermarket and either wait for you or pick you up at an agreed
time. If you are driving yourself from the airport, the
following list of supermarkets and their business hours are:
Personal Supplies : Bring warm clothes and winter
shoes/boots as it snows in southern Arizona winters, especially
above 4000 ft. You may want to have lip balm and hand lotion
along on your trip as it is very dry on the mountain.
First-aid kits are available in all buildings but non-prescription
medicines (e.g., anti-histamines, antacids and aspirin) are not
supplied by the Observatory.
- Fry's on Sahuarita Road - Exit 75, East (6AM to 11PM)
- Safeway on Duval Mine Road - Exit 69, West (Hours: 5AM to 11PM)
- Wal-Mart on Duval Mine Road - Exit 69, East (Hours: 24 hours)
- Safeway on Continental Road - Exit 63, West (Hours: 5AM to 11PM)
Staffing Hours: The Ridge telescopes (1.5m and 1.2m) have
daytime staff who work Monday through Friday, unless emergency
repairs are necessary, approximately 9:15am to 4:30pm. Basic
telescope instructions are provided mainly during these working
hours, or by arrangement. Observers arriving on Saturdays or Sundays
to use the 1.5 or 1.2m telescopes will most likely have no one to
instruct them. Please consult the MMT Observing Policies link for
Computers: The telescope computers usually accessible to
observers are all connected to the internet via the mountain
network. At the Ridge, FLWO provides (as is, without support)
internet connections for portable computers, as follows. In
the telescope control rooms, you will find cables with RJ45
connectors to plug a laptop to the network via dhcp. At the
telescope buildings and at both dorms, you will find wireless (G)
access points. Your connectivity and its quality will vary
significantly as a function of your coordinates.
Filters: The 1.2m telescope has a BVRI Harris filter
complement (the default), a set of SDSS and some narrow-band filters
in residence, mounted on an 8-slot filter wheel. If you need filters
other than the default set to be mounted, make sure you email or
call in to the staff a request, well in advance of your trip to
FLWO. For MMT instruments, please consult the MMT observing page.
NOTE: only 1.5/1.2m staff members are allowed to change 1.2m
Training: Night-time instruction is required for observers
new to the telescopes. Such observers should contact the staff and
the observer that precedes them to arrive and arrange for training
at least the night before the beginning of their own run. It is very
effective to accompany an experienced observer for a first run.
Observing: At times, the person who actually observes is
not the PI on the proposal that was awarded time. In that case, it
is the responsibility of the PI to advise FLWO staff of who will be
observing, in advance of the run. The PI should also ensure that the
observer communicates with FLWO staff regarding any special needs,
such as filters, and that the observer will have prepared by
studying the appropriate online manuals. Observers who have not used
the facilities for more than a year should also reacquaint
themselves with all relevant online manuals.
Local fauna: Mount Hopkins is within the Coronado National Forest
and is home to a large number of animals. Some of these, such as
bears or snakes, may be dangerous. Please avoid approaching them.
Never attempt to feed any wildlife. Here are some examples
of recent sightings.
CAUTION WHEN HIKING:
Steve Johnson, an experienced Tucson climber, was climbing near the
FLWO site over the weekend of 05/04/13 and was found dead on
05/07/13, possibly due to
multiple bee stings (see news article).
Please be aware that bees are here and if agitated may become
aggressive! If you wish to read about avoidance measures
article should be informative.
If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to
contact Pascal, Lori or Josh.
If you see a swarm of bees report it to your supervisor, Pascal,
Lori or Josh at once and inform everyone in the area.
User's Guide to Safety and Training Information: The safety
and security of all users are of the utmost concern to FLWO. All
visitors, especially those who have never visited or not visited in
a while, should take the following two steps. First, take the time
to read our User's guide before traveling to Mt. Hopkins; please
download the PDF file here
. Second, fill out, sign and date the form in the last page of the
guide and have your supervisor do likewise. Hand in the completed
form to Pascal Fortin.
Updated 08/08/2022 by PF