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more of the evening tour
Photo Credit: guyonthego

Kitt Peak National Observatory

The observatory is about 60 miles southwest of Tucson via State Route 86.
Visitor Center is open 9-4. Tours at 10am, 11:30am, and 1:30pm. Evening program after 4:00.
520-318-8726 Half day
March 2013 All year
$30-59 - Arizona
Website Recreation Star Gazing
First review
Located about 60 miles southwest of Tucson in the Quinlan Mountains and established in 1958, Kitt Peak National Observatory is an astronomical research site administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. The observatory includes a diverse mix of 24 optical and 2 radio telescopes. It’s open to the public for visits both during the day and in the evening.

The observatory is located on Kitt Peak, a 6,880 foot mountain in the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation. This area was chosen because of its cool, dry climate and for dark skies, although the rapid growth of both Tucson and Phoenix are creating more light pollution issues as the years pass. Nevertheless, this is still a major astronomical research station and important scientific advancements have taken place here in solar research and in cataloging nearby asteroids.

The facility is open for both self-guided and guided tours. Guided daytime tours of three different large telescopes are offered at 10:00, 11:30 and 1:30, or you can see them on your own. All the telescopes close at 4:00 and the evening program typically starts around 5:30, so there is a gap of time to check out the small museum and/or to watch some good astronomy programs. The evening program kicked off with an introductory talk and a box dinner. Later there was an opportunity to watch the sunset and then get some views of planets, stars and galaxies via 16 and 20 inch telescopes. The staff also demonstrated how to use traditional paper star guides (cell phone technology likely has made this tool obsolete). The program wrapped up around 9:00. The evening staff members were upbeat, informative and entertaining. Viewing conditions were generally good but quite cold at night in winter. Given the distances and drive times, Kitt Peak does not merit a visit just for a daytime tour, but to visit both during the day and to stick around for an evening program is worthwhile and memorable, especially if you are into astronomy.
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