Before Your Run

Guidelines for a Successful Observing Run
  1. Provide accurate and complete information on your observing forms before each run.
  2. Arrive at the MMT early if you are observing in person.
  3. Be familiar with the instrument and telescope. Print and read cheat sheets.
  4. Send accurate target coordinates in an observing catalog or the Scheduler Database ahead of time.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the MMTO policies on data and bring your own backup media.
  6. Make any special arrangements with the staff well in advance of your observing run.
Observing Forms

Susan Wahl will contact Blue Channel observers via email prior to their observing run. You will receive a link to complete your request for instrument requirements. Please fill out and submit the observing form three weeks prior to your run. Please contact Susan Wahl (520-621-1558) with any comments or problems with these forms.

Target Catalogs

Blue Channel users should submit a target catalog in advance through the online catalog tool and be sure to include offset stars with proper motions. Users of MMIRS and Binospec should receive an email link with instructions to upload targets to the MMT Scheduler Database well before the run.


Observers can arrive at the MMTO facilities one day in advance of their observing run. If you want to arrive earlier, please contact Susan Wahl well in advance of the date with your request. The dormitories are operated by the F. L. Whipple Observatory (FLWO) and should be booked two to three weeks in advance of your arrival. Please make dorm reservations through the MMT office by responding to an email with the observing form link sent by Susan Wahl. Please read, sign, and attached the signed Safety Training in the same email. We guarantee the availability of rooms for two MMT observers; beyond this will depend on room availability. There are ten fully equipped dorms in the “Bowl” area just below the summit and an additional ten rooms at the “Ridge” dorm located at a lower elevation approximately 3km below the summit. Dorms are equipped with bedding, towels and soap. They are cleaned every weekday. If you check in on a weekend and the room has not been cleaned there are new linens etc. available – please follow posted signs.

A fee of $50 per person per night is charged to all non SAO, Steward Observatory, and MMTO personnel. It is appreciated if dorm users pay for their rooms (cash, check, VISA, MC, or Discover) during their stay if they are arriving or departing during normal office hours at the Administrative Complex (8:30-5:00, Monday through Friday, ph 520-879-4401). Payment must be made to FLWO staff at the Administrative Complex.

Your room(s) will be reserved if you indicate the number of rooms required and the contact information for each observer on your Observing Form. Changes to your reservation can be made by emailing or calling Susan Wahl at 520-621-1558.

Good wireless access is available at the MMT and summit, Bowl dorm, and the Common Building (across the road from the summit dorms). To access wireless internet connections, connect to the “summit-data” SSID. No password is needed.

Transportation to the MMT

Driving directions from the Tucson airport or from our campus office are available. After reaching the FLWO Administrative Complex (also referred to as the “Basecamp”) at the base of Mt. Hopkins, FLWO has 4-wheel drive vehicles available to drive from there to the dorms and summit.  In order to drive a FLWO vehicle, you must read and comply with the Vehicle Operator’s Guide and submit a Driver’s Statement, along with a copy of the front and back of your driver’s license.  Observers should make arrangements to use a FLWO vehicle by calling the Motor Pool at the Administrative Complex at 520-879-4410.

It is appreciated if local observers provide their own or University motor pool transportation as much as possible, keeping the FLWO vehicles available for out-of-town observers.

A taxi service by Cavalier Express (520-625-1055 or 520-603-9561) is available from the Tucson airport to the Administrative Complex, but not to the summit. The cost is $65 one-way and must be paid by cash or check, no credit cards accepted. If you plan to use the taxi service and then drive to the summit, allow 2 hours of travel time from the airport to the Administrative Complex (including stopping at a grocery store enroute) and 45 minutes to 1 hour from the Admin. Complex to the summit. Arrange your flight arrival and departure times accordingly. Be sure to change or cancel the taxi reservations if your trip changes. Reservations not cancelled will be billed to you.

If you are planning to drive to the telescope yourself in a rental or personal vehicle, please stop at the Administrative Complex or the Motor Pool and pick up a hand-held radio. Their hours are 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, weekdays only. The Motor Pool is also accessible on the weekends (and federal holidays) using the gate and building lock combination you will receive in email correspondence before your observing run. NOTE: rental or personal vehicle drivers will also need to read and comply with the Vehicle Policy found at the Vehicle Operator’s Guide link above.

The Mt. Hopkins road is a one-lane, well maintained dirt road with pull-outs to kilometer 13. It’s important to announce on the radio your kilometer (km) location and if you’re going up or down. After the gate at km 13, the road is still one-lane, but is asphalt to the summit. It’s a public road up to km 13 so you might see bicyclists, hikers, or members of the public driving without a radio. Use extra caution when driving around corners. Sometimes, the Border Patrol might be driving on the road as well and they don’t always use radios. You might also see animals along the way such as cows, deer, and possibly even bears around the dorm area near km 19. Do not leave food in your vehicle.

In general, observers are responsible for arranging their own transportation. However, we will try to help with arrangements or rides when possible. If weekend travel is involved, please keep in mind that staff does not work on weekends. Please contact Susan Wahl as soon as possible if you have any questions.

Transportation for Non-US Citizens

All of the above information also applies to non-US citizens. You can drive a FLWO vehicle if you have a US or foreign driver’s license and if you submit the paperwork mentioned above. If you do not have a license or do not feel comfortable driving a FLWO vehicle or driving on a mountain road, please contact Susan Wahl for help with making alternate travel arrangements.

If you are scheduled to observe on a weekend and need a ride to the MMT, we encourage scheduling flights that arrive and depart Tucson on a weekday (Monday – Friday) if possible, in order to ride with MMT staff during the work week. If weekday travel is not possible, please contact Susan Wahl.

Vehicle Lights on the Mountain

It is vital to protect all telescopes from vehicle headlights. Please use parking lights and/or blinkers and drive slowly if on the mountain after dark. The VERITAS collaboration operates telescopes near the Administrative Complex and need to be alerted if you will be driving by after dark. VERITAS observers monitor the FLWO radio system which is the best way to contact them, or they can also be reached by phone at 520-879-4435. Please notify them in advance if you plan to pass by the Administrative Complex area at nighttime.

Arrival at the MMT

Observers are expected to be at the MMT well enough in advance of sunset to ensure that all instrument set-up and calibration tasks can be completed in time to be ready to begin observing as soon as it is dark. The day crew departs the mountain at approximately 4:00 pm. If you require their assistance, plan to arrive at 2:00 pm or earlier, depending on your needs. If you will be arriving later than that and need the assistance of the day crew, it is necessary to arrange for this in advance by contacting Ricardo Ortiz, Mountain Operations Manager (520-879-4556).

Observer Training

When Hectospec, Hectochelle, MMIRS, and Binospec are in use, observations are done in queue mode by an instrument operator who takes the data.  Observers do not need to come to the telescope. If you would like to be present, contact Susan Wahl.

    Observers who are new to the MMT and are using the Blue Channel spectrograph MUST either:
  1. have an experienced observer accompany you to learn the intricacies of the MMT and the instrument
  2. make arrangements to receive training in advance of your run by contacting MMT staff (see below)

If you have not been checked out on the use of the instrument, please make sure to study the on-line manual carefully to familiarize yourself with its operation.  In addition, email or call Susan Wahl at 520-621-1558 to arrange for training by staff.  If you have any questions regarding this policy, contact the MMTO Director well in advance of your observing run.  If you do not make such prior arrangements, the success of your observing run will be put in jeopardy since there is no guarantee that qualified staff will be on the mountain to train you in the operation of the instrument. If you have experience with the scheduled instrument but it has been some time since you last used it, please review its website. If you have further questions, please contact Susan Wahl who will direct you to the appropriate staff member.

Data Policies

The MMTO does not supply media for long term data storage. Blue Channel investigators must supply their own portable media (DVDs, USB drive) for that purpose or plan to scp the data off site. The MMTO does not maintain a data archive. Observers using the Blue Channel Spectrograph must be aware that the data storage area on the instrument computer will typically be cleaned during the morning before the next observer’s first night. Therefore, it is imperative that you copy your data to your own storage device or scp it to your home institution before you go to bed on the last night of your run. Binospec and MMIRS data can be retrieved from the Scheduler Database.

Large Groups

You must contact Susan Wahl (520-621-1558) to obtain prior approval if your observing team consists of more than three persons.


Please notify MMTO staff if you have cryogenic requirements other than those for the standard facility instruments.


The observatory has no food service and therefore you must buy provisions before arriving (see Grocery Stores below). Fully equipped kitchens are provided, and staples such as coffee and condiments are supplied. Dishwashing and kitchen cleanup are the responsibility of kitchen users.

Grocery Stores

Listed below are several grocery stores located either near Tucson International Airport (TIA) or off I-19 en route to Mt. Hopkins (Canoa Rd. Exit 56).

Store Address Phone # Hours Proximity Map Link
Food City 428 W. Valencia Rd 520-807-0413 6AM – 11PM ~3.5 miles from the TIA view map
Off I-19
Fry’s 15950 S Rancho Sahuarita Blvd, Sahuarita 520-648-7704 5AM – Midnight ~16.5 miles from I-10/I-19 interchange view map
Safeway 1301 W. Duval Mine Rd. 520-648-2847 5AM – Midnight ~21.2 miles from I-10/I-19 interchange view map
Safeway 260 W. Continental Rd. 520-625-7283 5AM – 11PM ~24.7 miles from I-10/I-19 interchange view map
Walmart Super Center 18680 S. Nogales Hwy, Sahuarita 520-625-3808 open 24 hours ~21.0 miles from I-10/I-19 interchange view map