I’m wrapping up a couple of projects and anxious to return to work on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which tells the terrifying tale of a night at a haunted observatory. Now, I work at Kitt Peak National Observatory, a world-renowned institution in Southern Arizona. I operate the observatory’s flagship telescope, the Mayall 4-meter shown here.
As far as I know, the Kitt Peak 4-meter is not really a haunted observatory, but it does provide inspiration for my fictional, haunted observatory. The building is eighteen stories tall, but on a typical night, only three or four people inhabit the building. It’s a big space that literally moans in the wind. One night the power went out, and I had to climb this staircase in the dark, accompanied by nothing but the sound of creaking vents and the thudding of my own heart.
When it was built, the plan was for astronomers to stay in the building. Later, it was found that heating the rooms made for poor images at the telescope. So, the rooms were abandoned. They still exist, and are used for storage, but it can be a little unnerving to walk down an empty hallway that curves around the building, frozen in time from the early 1970s.
Large as the building is, there are also some rather cavernous spaces. Again, some of these spaces are used for storage. You can find computers from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, plus parts from outdated instrumentation. When you walk into a space like this, is it so hard to imagine something lurking in the shadows?
The 4-meter telescope is a large, sophisticated machine. A lot of power is needed to run it, and pipes carry such fluids such as water, glycol and even oil throughout the building. There are numerous service facilities throughout the structure. Some of the spaces remind me out of something from a science fiction film. What could be lurking around the corner in this photo?
The Kitt Peak 4-meter is an amazing facility. It’s the place where the observations that led to the discovery of dark matter were made. Personally, I’ve seen everything from asteroids to distant supernovae, to gravitational lenses at the telescope in this building. However, on some dark and stormy nights, I’ve walked down some of these corridors and wondered if I really was alone.