Tucson is quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the country, maybe even the world. This “little” gem of a town continues to WOW me with its atmosphere, beautiful landscapes, and abundance of things to do. Tim and I continue to discover new things every week, and after seven months, we’re still finding cool stuff. Recently, we discovered the Kitt Peak National Observatory and added it to our “not-to-be-missed” list.
Yes, I’m making a list for our visitors and it is already too long for most people to do on their first visit. 🙂
Kitt Peak National Observatory
We made a trip to Kitt Peak a couple of months ago and totally loved it!
It’s a great activity for space and science buffs (like ourselves) and should not be missed. And, if you want to teach your kids about the skies, the observatory is totally family friendly.
So, what is it?
Kitt Peak National Observatory is an observatory for ground-based nighttime ultraviolet-optical-infrared (OUVIR) astronomy. Founded in 1958, it operates three major nighttime telescopes and hosts the facilities of consortia which operate 22 optical telescopes and two radio telescopes.
“Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), part of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), supports the most diverse collection of astronomical observatories on Earth for nighttime optical and infrared astronomy and daytime study of the Sun.”
The list of telescopes and instruments is extensive in this facility, see current equipment list here. So, if you’re into astronomy and science, don’t miss Kitt Peak.
Why in Tucson, though?
There is a reason many telescopes top our surrounding mountains. They are taking advantage of Tucson’s clean air and clear, dark skies and they make us the “astronomy capital of the world.”
What does that mean?
It means that this area is one of few left in the world that is ideal to observing the skies. To provide standards and so night lighting did not interfere with nearby astronomical observatories, Tucson and Pima County first adopted outdoor lighting ordinances in 1972. Today, Tucson’s artificial-light pollution regulations are stringent, but that’s a good thing. It allows us to experience an incredibly clear night sky. It is said that Tucson has the darkest skies of any city of its size in the U.S.A. Incidentally, Tucson’s population is just under 500,000.
What you can expect to find at Kitt Peak?
If you’re planning to visit the Kitt Peak National Observatory, you should plan on a full day trip. There are three tours throughout the day and each one of them covers a different telescope. We didn’t realize this and didn’t get up to the peak until about noon, so we missed out on the morning tours. I highly recommend that you get there early, by about 9:30 AM.
Each tour is guided by a decent and they are super knowledgeable and make the tours interesting. You will also find several opportunities for daytime solar viewing – I loved looking solar flares! For details on day time activities and tours, check out their website: Daytime Activities
In addition to daytime tours, the observatory also offers night activities that are open to the public. They offer anything from a family-friendly Nightly Observing Program to a more costly, Overnight Telescope Observing Program. We have yet to check out the night programs but it is on our to-do-list for this fall.
As a bonus to all this sky technology, Kitt Peak National Observatory also offers some of the best panoramas in the area. Looking down at the landscapes below is simply breathtaking and worthy of a photo op. It doesn’t matter if you’re a photography pro or an amateur, bring your camera for great pictures!
Things to know before you go:
How to get there: Kitt Peak National Observatory does not have a street address. It is on a mountain called Kitt Peak. It is located 56 miles (90 kilometers) southwest of central Tucson. If you are using a GPS device you can try entering Lat.: 31.96, Long.: -111.598.
“Kitt Peak National Observatory is privileged to be permitted to occupy the top 300 feet of one of the most important mountains in the cultural heritage of the Tohono O’odham Nation. It is extremely important that all NOAO employees, visiting observers and dignitaries, tenants, and visitors respect this cultural heritage at all times.”
Food: There is opportunity to buy drinks and snacks only but no restaurant of any type. I recommend that you bring your lunch, if you come for the entire day.
Weather: This is the desert, so it can be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so dress accordingly. Keep in mind that Kitt Peak is elevated at 7,000 feet above sea level, so temps there are cooler than Tucson metro.
Walking: You will be doing a lot of walking on the tours and checking out the area. Much of it is uphill and it is at a high elevation. So, bring good walking shoes. Also, make sure that the people you bring with you are in decent physical condition because altitude can be an issue for some folks.
Check out our other Arizona posts:
Grand Canyon. Lake Havasu. First American Southwest Trip. Sonora Desert Museum. Wild Horses Of Arizona. Tumbstone and Bisbee AZ. Arizona Renaissance Festival. Buying a car in Arizona. Sabino Canyon Tucson. Tucson Gem Show, 21 Reasons To Move To Tucson Arizona. Why we moved back to USA. Swap Meets and Farmers Markets. First Look At Southern Arizona