The summer has unleashed its terrible fury upon Tucson for a few weeks now and the end of the sweltering heat is nowhere in sight. There is more to the Arizona summer, though. Storm clouds have been brewing off in the horizon for the last week, tantalizing us with their potential downpour. Every night, thunder clouds gather in the distance rolling their electric booms across the sky. Between the heat and the humidity, there is a good reason for the snowbirds to head back home in May.
Down here in Tucson, we get a particularly strong dose of the heat, but all is not for loss. The summer also brings with it some great entertainment opportunities. Before you start dragging your family down to the movie theater twice a week to stay out of the heat, you should know that there is a great source of educational fun just outside of town.
The University of Arizona’s SkyCenter observatory sits atop Mount Lemmon’s 9,157-feet peak and hosts a public viewing program, SkyNights. SkyNights offers not only a viewing through their brand new 32-inch Schulman telescope, but also access to their extensive knowledge of the cosmos. This science facility operates through the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory and grants access to the general public to the equipment of one of the nation’s leading astronomy programs. SkyCenter is dedicated to educating and entertaining people of all ages with a unique glimpse into the vastness of space. A view through the SkyCenter’s telescope will show you intricate spiral galaxies, bright stars, and glimpses into far off planets. The state’s largest public-use telescope will afford you views of the greatest sights the night sky has to offer.
As this program is designed to facilitate up to 20 people and runs all year, spots can fill up quite quickly. During most of the year, if you want to book a specific day, the SkyCenter asks that you make a booking two weeks in advance to ensure that you get the day that you want. They do accept reservations up to 24 hours in advance, however. From July to Aug, the SkyCenter does not allow for advanced ticket sales because of the monsoon season. The unpredictability of the weather prevents SkyCenter from being able to create any kind of schedule for viewing. SkyCenter does have a waiting list that you can be added to and you will be called when they have clear conditions.
Keep in mind, this is not a free service. Tickets for SkyNights run $60 for adults and $30 for kids aged seven to seventeen, children younger than seven are not allowed to attend SkyNights for safety reasons. These tickets buy you much more than a simple viewing. Upon arriving in Summerhaven, you meet a SkyCenter representative and are taken to a shuttle leading to the learning center. An introduction is given on the facility, the program, and Mount Lemmon. After an included meal, guests are taken to a perfect view of the notoriously beautiful Tucson sunset. After the sun has set and the stars have appeared in the night sky, participants head to the observatory dome for the true SkyNights experience. Guests use a mix of binoculars, star charts, and the telescope to view examples of every astronomical object imaginable.
The summer nights bring about wonderful warmth, but there is a downside to the summer program at SkyNights. Because of the irregularity and suddenness of the monsoon season, cloud coverage can often prevent ideal viewing conditions. SkyCenter is prepared for this scenario. Even when cloud coverage obscures any view through the telescope, there is an opportunity for a fantastic experience. SkyCenter also has infrared cameras that are not affected by cloud coverage, as well as a cloud chamber and a chance to study different spectra of light. If you would rather see the stars, SkyCenter also offers refunds on tickets as well as an opportunity to reschedule your viewing.
Set some time aside this summer and sign up to participate in one of the most unique experiences that the Tucson area has to offer.
The University Arizona SkyCenter atop Mount Lemmon is your opportunity to take a look deep into the worlds outside of your own. Space is the vast blanket of endless mystery that we as Earthlings are a part of. Take advantage of this opportunity to look as deep into space as you can, and see everything. Take one peak through, not only the largest public-use telescope in the state, but the largest in the southern United States.
Tell me your mind isn’t blown by what you see!
For more information on the program and contacting SkyCenter, visit the website at http://skycenter.arizona.edu/