Kitt Peak National Observatory – Tucson, Arizona
This observatory is part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and supports the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the sun.
Arizona‘s night skies are the best in the continental United States for viewing and research because of the low humidity, lack of air turbulence, warm temperatures, and controlled urban light pollution.
The University of Arizona holds astronomy camps for teens, adults, and educators at their observatories on Mount Lemmon outside of Tucson, those classes (camps) and a trip to the planetarium/observatory at the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center in Tucson may be a good primer before heading to Kitt Peak. You will get a lot more out of your visit after learning from these two stops.
The Kitt Peak National Observatory is home to twenty-four optical and two radio telescopes representing eight astronomical research institutions.
The Visitor Center is open to the public daily from 9 – 3:45 except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’ day. Guided tours are offered daily at 10 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm and group tours are available by appointment. You can stargaze at Kitt Peak with their Nightly Observing Programs. You will observe everything from planets to distant galaxies using the 20″ Ritchey-Chretien, the 16″ Ritchey-Chretien, and their 16t” Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. This program is offered to a small group of participants every night of the week (closed from July 15 to September 1 for monsoon season.)
Call 520-318-8726 for reservations. Since this program is so popular it is suggested that you call for reservations 2 to 4 weeks prior to your visit.
Rate Information: Adults $41; Seniors (62 and over) $36; Students (elementary to college) $36; Military (with current ID) $36.
Nightly Observing Program Information
Please arrive 60 to 75 minutes before sunset and check into the Visitor Center (exact time will be given when your reservations are made). Explore the displays and exhibits and then you’ll be served a light meal and experience an introduction to astronomy and the National Observatory. At that time you will head to the overlook point and observe the sun setting over the Tohono O’odham Reservation.
There will be a brief talk about the distances between objects in our universe, you will learn how to use a planisphere to find stars and constellations in the sky. You will then be given a pair of binoculars to use before stepping outside and identifying constellations, stars, and many other interesting objects.
Finally, you will gather in one of the Visitor Centers domes to observe the heavens in all their glory through one of the reflecting telescopes. You will see highlights of the particular time of years like planets, multiple star systems, planetary nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. You will learn about these objects as you view them and find out what a light year really means. You will have a QA session all during the adventure so ask questions when you have them.
The program runs for 3 to 3.5 hours after sunset. It is something you will remember for a lifetime!
Directions: From Tucson, find Ajo Way (Hwy 86) and head west. Pass Ryan Airfield and Three Points. About 40 Miles from Tucson turn left onto Hwy 386 (signs will say Kitt Peak).
Drive 12 miles up the mountain, until you see a “giant concrete donut” with a mural painted on it. Turn left and park.
The grounds are closed after 4 pm so walk straight to the Visitor Center.
It often gets cold on the mountain, so bring warm clothing, seriously, you will need them.