Arizonans love astronomy. So much so that it’s the international headquarters for an effort to keep the skies “dark” for scientific and recreational stargazing.
Professional and amateur astronomers share their expertise – and their telescopes – in inexpensive or free events for the public.
Use this sampling of affordable activities to plan a few hours, or an entire night, of stargazing. Then get ready to discover your place in the universe right from Arizona.
See the Stars for Free
Atmospheric Research Observatory, Flagstaff
This Northern Arizona University facility has a computer-controlled, 20-inch telescope and six 10-inch scopes. It’s open every clear Friday and Saturday, 7:30–10 p.m.
Coconino Astronomical Society, Flagstaff
Members set up about six scopes in Heritage Square once a month in the summer to view bright planets and the moon. They also hold public viewings during each new moon at various locations in Williams.
East Valley Astronomy Club, Gilbert
Star parties held the second Friday of each month run from dusk to as late as 10 p.m. at the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve. Look through members’ scopes or through the 16-inch telescope at the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory, which offers viewing on Friday and Saturday nights. The club also hosts the fall All-Arizona Star Party in Arizona City.
Flandrau Science Center, Tucson
The Tucson planetarium’s 16-inch telescope on the University of Arizona campus opens Wednesday–Saturday, 7–10 p.m. A star expert helps you interpret what’s in view.
High Desert Astronomy Club, Kingman
Public star parties in 2011 at Walleck Ranch Park start at sundown on June 4, August 6 and October 8, with more in the planning stages. As many as nine telescopes range from 6 to 20 inches.
Huachuca Astronomy Club, Sierra Vista
During Astronomy Nights you can use members’ telescopes and the 20-inch viewer in the Patterson Observatory at the University of Arizona South. The club also helps out at Kartchner Caverns State Park’s Star Nights annual event in Benson.
Prescott Astronomy Club
As many as 10 scopes are ready for you during these 2011 Starry Nights events: May 21 and October 22 at Vista Park, and September 17 and November 19 in Prescott Valley’s Pronghorn Park. The club also hosts other special events, including star talks and moon-observation nights.
Arizona Stargazing for Less Than $20
Challenger Space Center Arizona, Peoria
Regularly scheduled Family Stargazing Nights start at 7 p.m. at this space-education center. Each event features a tour of exhibits, an astronomy talk and sky viewing until 9 p.m. Cost is $8. Additional discounted rates are available.
Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff
Gaze at the heavens as astronomer Clyde Tombaugh did when he discovered Pluto from this observatory, now a Registered National Historic Landmark. During the day, view the star closest to Earth through a solar telescope pointed at the sun. At night, try out the portable scopes. Cost is $10. Additional discounted rates are available.
Sky-Scanning Events for $20–$50
Grand Canyon Star Party
The Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association provides some 60 scopes on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and the Saguaro Astronomy Club sets up as many as 12 on the higher North Rim for this annual event. The 2011 gathering is June 18–25 and includes astronomer and park ranger talks. The event is free, but park entry costs $25 per vehicle.
Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Sells
During nightly observing programs either a 16-inch or a 20-inch telescope is available to give you a glimpse of what scientists worldwide see. The event starts with a pre-sunset talk, followed by viewing through binoculars and the scope. Reservations required. Cost is $48. Additional discounted rates are available.
Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, Tucson
A 32-inch scope, Arizona’s largest dedicated public viewing telescope, is available during nightly SkyNights. The five-hour program includes a light dinner and shuttle to the scope. Reservations required. Cost is $48.