The MMT Observatory (MMTO) is an observatory located on site at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory. The MMTO is one of many run by the University of Arizona, as well as the Smithsonian Institution, and is located in the Santa Ria Mountains, just south of Tucson. The MMTO is particularly famous for its namesake, the MMT (Multiple Mirror Teliscope), which was created at the University of Arizona.
Backstory and Context
Around the mid-1960s, the Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), Dr. Fred Lawrence Whipple, expressed that despite having numerous astronomical observing stations worldwide, the SAO was in need of a full-fledged observatory of their own. This plan had to start small, however. In 1964, NASA began a satellite tracking program, and the SAO took the opportunity to move their tracking station to a new site with the plan of eventually making it into a full-fledged observatory. After considering numerous options, an area around Tucson was decided on, largely because of the presence of a quickly-growing astronomical community in the city.
Mount Hopkins was decided on as the site for the construction of the tracking station, but they left the peak of the mountain in pristine condition to be used for the construction of an observatory later. By 1968, the tracking station was complete, and soon after, the SAO partnered with the University of Arizona to build an observatory on Mount Hopkins in order to house the SAO and University of Arizona’s new project, the MMT. Construction began soon after 1973, and the MMT was quickly given a home base of operations.