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How To: Get Down With What's Up in the Air in Arizona

March 28, 2012


About to Get Down with What's Up


Above iconic scenery and wide open spaces, beyond the mountains that meet Sonoran Desert skies, a universe of discovery awaits in Arizona. Ranked sky high for its endless stargazing opportunities, Arizona affords visitors celestial sights worth celebrating, from vibrant vantage points… Not to mention the endless days for spending beneath the sun. Get up close and personal with the planets from a mountain’s peak. Let an Arizona getaway take you up, up, and away!


Northern Arizona

Did you know Pluto was discovered in 1930 from Flagstaff, Arizona's Lowell Observatory? Visit Lowell on Mars Hill Road, in Flagstaff to peer through the telescope that Percival Lowell used to sketch Mars, explore the night sky and fly to the edge of the universe. Discover Pluto yourself through a variety of telescopes at this research facility featuring fantastic visitor programs. Daytime experiences at Lowell compare the old and new, highlighting the history of the observatory and current astronomical research including the progress of the $53 million Discovery Channel Telescope. Take a guided tour of the planets, and see the historic Rotunda Library at the observatory. Nighttime unveils views of Jupiter, the Moon, star clusters and more, when the telescopes open for viewing.


See the thunderous sound and explosive fury, watching a meteor's heated trip through the Earth's atmosphere during "Collisions and Impacts," a movie at Meteor Crater Visitor’s Center. Discover the spectacular result of this collision first-hand only moments later just minutes from Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona near Winslow. Meteor Crater is the best preserved meteorite impact site on the planet, reaching depths of 550-feet and nearly one mile across. Weighing several hundred thousand tons, a giant meteor rocked Arizona's surface, 50,000 years ago with more energy than 20 million tons of TNT. Experience the giant crater from three lookout points on its rim, featuring interactive displays, a large-screen theater, an Astronaut Wall of Fame, Apollo space capsule and more.


Serious star searchers and the scientifically inclined must make an appointment to stop at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center near Flagstaff’s Buffalo Park. Learn more about the center and how their team works with NASA to lead investigations, select rover landing sites, and to create geologic maps used for landing spacecrafts on Mars, the Moon, Venus, Mercury, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn! The center even has Photogrammetry Guest Facility where planetary researchers, international scientists, and graduate students teach visitors and offer training to make digital topographic models from planetary stereo images.


Southern Arizona

Southern Arizona shines as the “Astronomy Capital of the World.” With more than 350 ideal viewing nights per year, and the most respected observatories in the world, Southern Arizona is the place to explore space.


Get a behind the scenes tour and learn how telescopes are built at The Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory, located under Arizona Stadium, at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Public tours showcase cutting-edge optical technology and the revolutionary spin-casting processes involved in making giant telescope mirrors, from construction of the mold, to spin casting, grinding and polishing.


See the largest collection of optical telescopes on earth at Kitt Peak National Observatory, located an hour’s drive southwest of Tucson on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. Take a VIP tour to explore a half-mile of telescopes and facilities, the largest solar telescope in the world, and an 18 story- tall Mayall 4-meter telescope. Specialty programs offered during April and May at Kitt Peak, allow participants to catch a glimpse of galaxies through the same world-class telescope used by Yale University researchers. See the wonders of the sky through the roll off-roof observatory, or participate in Nightly Observing Programs. Get a guided tour to make the most of any visit to Kitt Peak.


Can you imagine a better location for astronomical observing than a sky island? Yes they do exist! These “islands” or sudden outcroppings of mountains are isolated by low grasslands surrounding them. Sky Islands are especially distinctive not only for their vantage points and vistas, but due to their diverse eco-systems, both temperate and tropical, and their richness in native flora and fauna.


The Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter builds upon the uniqueness of the 9,000- foot Sky Island, Mt Lemmon. The SkyCenter delivers astronomical adventures for its visitors, like SkyNights, a nighttime observing program providing the opportunity to peer beyond the blue horizon of the sunny Arizona sky to investigate the fascinating universe. Learn that the sky is not the limit while putting star charts, binoculars and a superb 23-inch Schulman telescope to the test any night of the year. There's no reason to envy the pros when you can go to Astronomer Nights at the SkyCenter offering observations alongside a guide. Take home high quality images of space objects and share photos of an out of this world experience. Invite the kids for a closer look with the University of Arizona scientists during SkyCenter Discovery Days. Become experts on the natural wonders, history and science of Mt. Lemmon and the surrounding Catalina Mountains. Uncover tree-ring science, hummingbird patterns, the latest astronomical discoveries, ecology, meteorology and more.


Sunglow Ranch in Pearce, Arizona, is engulfed by the beauty of the Chiricahua Mountains, another Sky Island region. Astronomy enthusiasts love Sunglow Ranch for its vibrant views of the night sky free from the distracting lights of the city, only a step away from the comforts of a warm inviting casita. Reserve a personal astronomy pad or attend a dinner and stargazing special event, held during each new moon for optimal observing. These events offer unforgettable evenings under the stars over Sunglow Ranch.  As guests dine and listen-up, ranch hand and resident astronomer gives a brief talk on what lies overhead. After enjoying hors d'oeuvres and a three course meal served by Sunglow Cafe, head out to an open pasture to view the dark sky through 10” and 8" telescopes.


Also sharing the skies with the stars are the birds soaring across them. The hummingbird capital of the world, Sierra Vista is also home to Patterson Observatory and the premier Huachuca Astronomy Club including 15 other local observatories owned by amateur sky-watchers. Patterson Observatory is open to the public by reservation only and includes a 16-foot dome housing a Ritchey-Chretien telescope and a classroom for lectures and lessons. Through these telescopes, view directly in real time through video cameras featuring real-time connected monitors attached to the scopes. The Huachuca Astronomy Club hosts monthly astronomy nights, and includes both observatories open to the public and those requiring appointments.


Phoenix and Central Arizona
Five star hotels have nothing on the pristine resort properties in Phoenix and Central Arizona which offer stars to their guests in the millions. The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North even offers in-room telescopes with constellation charts as a turn-down service amenity. Troon North in addition to The Boulders Resort and Golden Door Spa, and the JW Marriot Camelback Inn, offer Sky Jewels Star Gazing Sessions to guests. Locate Jupiter, Saturn, the Orion Nebula, Mars, and other stellar sights depending on the time of year. Astronomer Richard Allen hosts all sessions using state-of-the-art telescopes and star charts as he tells awe-inspiring stories about the heavens above. The sessions are complimentary to resort guests.


Don’t forget to pack a headlamp! Just a short drive from Mesa, America’s largest suburb, leads to the beautiful Lost Dutchman State Park, where Park Rangers guide full-moon hikes and astronomy events including monthly astronomy nights hosted by astronomer Bill Dellinges.


Fly to the depths of outer space and participate in a space mission at the Smithsonian Institution’s Challenger Space Center in Peoria. As the public boards a simulation space craft, they quickly become a crew of astronomers preparing to connect with the great comet, Encke. The comet is traveling too closely to the Earth’s orbit. It’s up to you and the crew members to work together as a team to connect with the tail. Visit the simulator and save the planet from a comet’s path. Accept the challenge to explore more at the Challenger Space Center.


Take the night by storm on a Desert Storm Hummer Tour. Start with a sunset ride into the Four Peaks Mountains and wait for night to fall as the Hummer ventures 4,000-feet above sea level, far from city lights. Using the latest field technology, expert guides walk guests through the universe highlighting the planets, moon and other fantastic star systems. The tour continues with a rock climb in the Hummer with ITT Gen III military night-vision goggles allowing guests to see incredible Sonoran Desert wildlife in complete darkness.


 Set sail aboard the Dolly Steamboat in the evening to see Arizona’s stars and their twinkling reflections in Canyon Lake. Take the Twilight Dinner Cruise and enjoy basking in the beauty of Canyon Lake. Watch as the sun retreats and sets the canyon walls aglow.  Aboard the steamboat’s popular Twilight Astronomy Cruise, hosted monthly by astronomy expert, Dr. Sky, passengers use on-board telescopes for viewing the many sights of the solar system.


Begin a celestial celebration, full of discovery and excitement, in Arizona. Stay up after midnight to gaze at the stars of the Milky Way from a mountain’s summit.  Get down with what’s up in the air. Experience and learn as curiosities and questions become as clear as the night skies themselves.


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