Heavenly Kitt Peak
Near Tucson, starry, starry nights and deep-space views
Surrounded by giant domes housing the largest collection of telescopes on one mountain anywhere in the world, participants in Kitt Peak’s Nightly Observing Program get a whirlwind tour of the universe that begins with a glorious Arizona sunset and ends with a look at distant galaxies.
Kitt Peak National Observatory, some 55 miles southwest of Tucson, draws professional astronomers from many countries to its 25 telescopes, which include the massive 4-meter Mayall and the world’s largest solar telescope, the McMath-Pierce. Visit during the day, and you can join behind-the-scenes tours of these scopes led by the observatory’s docents. But at dusk, when the astronomers are going to work, you can get a hands-on introduction to the wonders of space ― led by one of Kitt Peak’s expert observing staff.
The evening starts with a simple box dinner, while your host gives you some perspective about celestial distances you’ll observe. (You’ll learn, for example, that if our entire solar system were the diameter of a penny, the Milky Way galaxy would cover most of the Western states.) Then you move outside, where you’re equipped with binoculars and a planisphere ― a sky chart showing the locations of stars, constellations, and other celestial objects. With the instructor’s help, you’ll soon be finding your own way through the heavens ― you might count the moons of Jupiter or focus on a star cluster beyond our galaxy’s edge.