MDM Visitor's Guide

Last updated on 2019Aug16, Galayda/MDM

Welcome to MDM Observatory.  This guide is intended to give you a basic overview of the facility and the procedures associated with visiting.


Please note that there is no longer a $40 per night use fee for observing at MDM.  Fees for use break down as follows:

•Use-fee of $50 per round-trip use of an MDM vehicle from Tucson, or $25 per one-way use.

•If using custom-cut multi-object slit masks with OSMOS, there is a fee of $187 per mask.

Fees are typically paid via PayPal, but can also be paid by check (no cash or credit card) to the Manager on-site.  A receipt can be issued for these services.


MDM Vehicles

MDM vehicles are provided for official MDM business.  Personal use of the vehicles is not permitted.  Drive carefully.  Do not drive if tired.  Make sure mode of transport is filled out on the run preparation form.  Cars are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis and have an associated use fee, as detailed above.  There are currently two MDM vehicles readily available to observers--a Subaru Outback and a Subaru Forester.  In unusual circumstances, there is also a manual-transmission Ford F-150 pickup truck on-site that may be available for observer use.  Consortium institutions have keys for a lockbox, located at the NOAO/AURA parking area.  This lockbox is used for transferrance of vehicle keys between the Observatory staff and observers.  If an MDM vehicle is requested, be sure to bring the key for the lockbox.  Maps and photos detailing the location of the downtown lot and lockbox can be acquired from the parent institution or by contacting the MDM Site Manager.  If using an MDM vehicle, it is the observer's responsibility to procure transport between the airport and the NOAO/AURA lot.

Kitt Peak Transport

The only guaranteed NOAO/Kitt Peak transport is 0640 to the mountain and 1600 to Tucson, Monday through Friday.  Transport does not necessarily run on NOAO holidays or weekends.  Booking any other time could leave observers stranded at MDM or in Tucson temporarily.  Please make sure that when using NOAO/Kitt Peak transportation outside of the guaranteed times, a backup transport plan is available.  NOAO transportation only runs at the following times:

To Kitt Peak:     0640, 0830, 1100, 1400, 1600, 1800

To Tucson:        0830, 1100, 1400, 1600, 1800, 2000

Normally, an NOAO/AURA employee must be available to drive the shuttle vehicle, however there is exception.  If an MDM observer has signed up for a shuttle in advance and no NOAO/AURA employee is available to drive, then the MDM observer is authorized to drive one of the shuttle vehicles to/from the mountain summit (NOAO vehicles cannot be left at MDM facilities).  In order for this to be a possibility, the observer needs to make sure that they have signed up in advance and they they have filed an "Application for a Motor Vehicle Operator's Identification Card".  If planning at all to use the NOAO shuttle service, it is a good idea to file this form in advance as it cannot be filed upon arrival.  For any questions about the NOAO shuttle service, contact the MDM Site Manager or the appropriate NOAO staff, found below:

Bellina Lopez can be contacted by dialing 0 from MDM or (520) 318-8603 from an outside line.

Karen Ray arranges the downtown transport for NOAO and can be contacted at (520) 318-8212.

•Telescope & Facility Use

•All MDM buildings have push-button door locks installed as of 2019August.  It is critical that the access code is acquired from MDM staff prior to arrival on-site.

Telescope Operations

Only observers confident and competent in telescope procedures should operate facility instrumentation.  It is the responsibnility of the visiting observer and their parent institution to ensure that adequate training has been performed.  In some cases, it may be possible to sit in with a previous observer (with their prior consent).  In exceptional cases, contact an MDM staff member for possibly more training on telescope operation if the need exists.  Observers should be familiar enough with the equipment on the telescope and in the computer rooms to enable effective troubleshooting through the night.  Read the telescope and instrumentation manuals as these may have been updated since any prior visit.

Trouble Reporting

Use the online trouble form for reporting troubles with the telescopes, instrumentation, or facilities.  When filling out the trouble report, include as much detail as possible such as telescope HA and Dec positions, times, sample computer file locations, telescope slewing or tracking, etc.  Email and telephone support for all types of problems are available until 2200.  Afterwards, contact should only be attempted for urgent matters involving safety to person or equipment.  For all other issues, such as problems with rooms, let a staff member know, detailing the problem.

Observers can also always search databases for the 2.4m or 1.3m for potential assistance in solving problems.

Network Usage

Take note that MDM network access is protected by a firewall.  Furthermore, all network searches/access are monitored and violations in regard to attempted access to questionable sites are recorded and reported.  Please use common sense when using the network at MDM and furthermore, ensure that any machine brought to the Observatory that will be connected to the network is clean of anything that may automatically attempt to establish contact with questionable sites.  Fumigation is your friend!  NOAO policy on network usage is detailed here.


Observers need to be extremely vigilant of weather conditions, particularly when the dome is open.  Instrument limits require facilities to be closed when winds hit 40 mph or humidity rises above 85% (80% when using 4K detectors).  In addition, excessive dust, as viewed through a flashlight beam or extremely cold temperatures may be cause to shut down.  On-site, the weather widgets on the workstations display current telescope status on the summit, which can typically (but not always!) be a good basis for MDM status.  On marginal nights, keep checking outside for clouds.  If it is cloudy, stow and close the telescope and dome until the clouds have passed, to prevent the possibility of rain getting on telescope and instrument optics.  Links to weather information can be found here.


Conserving resources, from water to electricity is extremely important at the Observatory.  All tap water is harvested rain water, gathered and treated on-site.  If you notice a leak anywhere, report it immediately.  Electricity is routed from the Tohono O'odham Nation and is charged a fairly steep surcharge for the remote location.  When not in use, turn off dorm room heat/AC to conserve.  Materials recycling is encouraged.  Materials should be appropriately cleaned for recycling.  Please be courteous with this--the Site Manager offloads all recycling personally to his home for introduction to recycling centers.


Rooms are loosely managed.  Observers will find and claim an empty room at the appropriate facility upon arrival.  Observer names should be recorded with the appropriate room on the white board located near the entryways to the dorm areas.  Linens (bedding and towels) are located in the corridor cupboard at the 2.4m telescope and in the workshop at the 1.3m telescope.  When departing MDM, observers should strip bedding and place it, and towels, outside the linen closets.

Be cautious of what goes down drains.  Plumbing on the mountain is old and delicate.  Depositing anything beyond toilet paper into the toilets will most likely cause a clog somewhere in the septic tank system.  Leave the room clean and tidy for the next observer.  This is important, as rooms do not necessarily get cleaned between observers.  Wipe your name from the white board as you depart.  Any issues with rooms should be reported to staff.


Due to issues with mice, staff request that all food be stored in the refrigerator, cabinets, or coolers.  The only food that could be left out on the table or counters are unopened cans and items stored in robust (mouse-proof) plastic containers.  If storage space is limited, notify staff and food left behind by previous observers can be removed.  Otherwise, observers can simply discard items as desired if staff are not available.  Dirty dishes should be washed promptly.

Any messes should be cleaned up immediately.  Food items that are discarded should be placed in the covered bins.  All recyclables must be rinsed before being discarded.  Plastic bags and styrofoam should never be placed in recycle bins!  Plastic bags can be bunched and stowed separately in lounges for recycling.  Staff will try to remind visitors of these policies, but if food is left out repeatedly, we reserve the right to throw out anything we feel could have been in contact with mice.  When observers depart, perishable foods should be dated.  Otherwise, items can be thrown out.  Do not pour cooking oil/grease down the drains.  Plumbing, as stated, is very delicate.  Lastly, alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited on Kitt Peak, as well as the entirety of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Kitt Peak Meals

Please ensure that names of all visiting observers are conveyed to MDM staff in advance so that they can be added to the check-in system for the Kitt Peak cafeteria.  Names can be listed on the run preparation form.  Once an observer's name is added to the system, that name will be accessible on any subsequent visit to MDM.  When dining at the summit, observers simply use the touch-screen computer at the cafeteria to search for the appropriate name(s).  Once the name is found, observers choose meal type (lunch, dinner, etc.) and click appropriately.  If an observer's name is not listed, please inform someone from the kitchen staff and the appropriate information can be entered, typically immediately.

Prior to departure, observers should visit Kitt Peak Admin. to pay for meals at the reception desk.  There are forms and envelopes available for payment information in the event that the receptionist, Bellina Lopez is not available.  


MDM workshop facilities are not available for use by visiting observers.  If workshop use is deemed necessary, prior contact to MDM staff is required.  

Leaving MDM

Observers should clear out used dorm rooms, leaving them clean and tidy for the next observer(s).  Data should be cleared from computer systems at the earliest opportunity.  Kitchen (and fridge) areas should also be left clean and tidy.  


Working Alone

When working alone, observers should stay in contact with other observers when possible.  Observers should carry the 2-way radio or telephone and use a flashlight in the dome or outside.  If an observer feels ill, it is important to let other observers or staff know.  If illness progresses, MDM staff should be informed and telescopes/instrumentation should be stowed and closed.  If possible or necessary, visitors can return to Tucson to check in at an appropriate medical facility.  Observers should not stay on the mountain if extremely sick.


Should an accident or "near miss" occur, observers should send an email to the Site Manager detailing the event.  If necvessary, a telephone followup may be appropriate.

First Aid

First aid kits are located in each lounge/kitchen area.  Additional supplies can be found in the shop cabinet (2.4m).  If any supplies are used, please let staff know so that it can be restocked.  A defibrillator is located in the 2.4m lounge and should be used if a heart problem is suspected.  Call for help as soon as possible in anything other than minor incidents.  In an emergency, contact the summit at 8777.  Emergency services off-mountain can also be contacted by dialing 9-911, however response times can be as long as one hour.  The location should be stated as MDM Observatory, Kitt Peak, Sells, Arizona, phone number 520-318-8660.

Liquid Nitrogen (LN2)

LN2, while not particularly dangerous, can easily cause freeze burns if not respected.  Gloves, aprons and face-shields are available in the domes for use when filling science dewars.  Consult with MDM staff, if necessary on fill procedures.  Ensure that the fill tube is fully inserted or the dewar may not be fully filled.  Dewars tend to be full when LN2 is vented around the fill tube at a vigorous rate.  If droplets are vented immediately upon filling, it is likely that the tube is not fully inserted.  Stop flow and reseat.  If a large LN2 spill occurs,the surrounding area should immediately be vacated (it's not only cold, but displaces oxygen).  Doors to outside should be opened until the spill evaporates. Detectors should be filled every morning and evening.  If a fill is forgotten and the detector starts to warm, it should not be filled without first contacting an MDM staff member for further instruction.


Fire extinguishers are located through MDM facilities for use in the event of small, localized fire.  Fire blankets are also available.  If assistance is required, vacate the premise, closing doors upon exiting.  Via 2-way radio, contact the summit (Channel 1).  If possible, call 911 (9-911) as well.  Call an MDM staff member afterwards as well.  For larger fires within the facility, or in the event of a forest fire, abandon the facility, taking the 2-way radio if possible.  Call 911 and an MDM staff member to let them know of the situation.  NOAO/KPNO fire and safety documentation can be found here.

Animals and Insects

MDM is a remote facility.  There are many insects and animals in the area, including rattlesnakes, bear and mountain lions.  If such an animal is stumbled upon, talk loudly, appear large and slowly back away.  Never run from a wild animal!  Extra precaution should be exercised while walking outside at night.  Stinging creatures such as scorpions and centipedes can be found around MDM as well.  If stung or bit. observers should contact an MDM staff member or call the summit (x8777) for medical attention.  Ultimately, call 911 (9-911) for emergency medical assistance.


MDM Observatory sits at an elevation of roughly 6,300' ASL.  Much of the protection afforded by the atmosphere is lost at this elevation.  Sunscreen and sunglasses are essential when outside for prolonged periods.


It is critical to drink plenty of water when visiting MDM.  Bottled water can be found in the kitchens of each facility.  Otherwise it is quite easy to become dehydrated due to the heat, elevation and lack of humidity.  It is not recommended to drink tap water as levels of lead are elevated.

Border Patrol

There have been isolated instances of contact with IA's, or illegal immigrants along valley or mountain roads.  If such a situation occurs, do not stop or get out of your vehicle, even if it appears that they may require assistance.  Instead, make note of their location (closest mile marker) and contact the U.S. Border Patrol to file a report by calling (520) 748-3166.  Although it may seem heartless to pass them by, Border Patrol agents are better trained and equipped for providing assistance.  It is also worth noting that it is a crime to transport IA's, even if they are injured.

When traveling to Tucson from MDM, visitors are required to stop at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs checkpoint and declare their citizenship.  If an observer is not a U.S. citizen, it is required that a passport be presented, as well as any other related documentation pertinent to time on U.S. soil.  Photocopies will not suffice.

Mercury Spill

The 2.4m primary mirror has a mercury band installed around it.  If it is leaking and mercury is found in the dome, evacuate the facility and call the authorities.  Spills of more than two tablespoons (one pound) require a call to the National Response Center (NRC).  The NRC hotline operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and can be reached at (800) 424-8802.  


Hard Hats

The domes have areas that are bump hazards.  Use the bump caps located in the domes as necessary.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Data sheets are located in each dome.  MSDS sheets detail emergency medical treatments to take for particular chemicals that can be found at MDM facilities.


Eric Galayda, Site Manager:  mobile number located on white boards in the control rooms.  Assistance can be attempted until 2200 nightly.  After 2200, only instances of threat to person or equipment warrant a phone call.


Contact an MDM staff member f you have any questions before or during time at MDM Observatory.