Frankly it sounded as exciting to me as a trip to the nuts and bolts factory.
My husband seemed as giddy as a kid in a candy store. “The star gazing program at Mount Lemmon is one of most renowned public astronomy programs in the world!”
“Astronomy? As in why are there black holes and how many quadzillion light years might it take to get to one?” I tried, not so successfully, to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
“But they have a 32-inch Schulman telescope! It’s one of the largest telescopes in the world that the public can actually look through!”
Oh be still my beating heart at the thought of the thrill. I turned and quietly rolled my eyes in anticipation.
On the day of our booking we made our way up the 28 miles of winding road toward the SkyCenter at the peak of Mt. Lemmon near Tucson Arizona. It was decided I would sit in the front seat to try to keep my motion sickness in check. All I could think was what a delightful day this was going to be.
Black holes and an emergency roadside stop for offerings to the gods of nausea. What more could a girl hope for?
As we began the drive the desert came alive in all of it’s spring glory. Lookout after lookout of jaw dropping scenes. Perhaps the outing would have a couple of positives after all.
Arriving at the forestry gate we awaited pick up from our guide, renowned astrophotographer Adam Block. I thought to myself how can a program last 5 hours? Perhaps I would be ready to poke out my eye with a non scientific instrument like a stick!
From the minute Adam met us at the gate I knew I should hang my tail, albeit virtual, between my legs in shame. With his friendly, fun and enthusiastic attitude for all things related to astronomy our extraordinary evening began.
It is likely I retained more information about planets, stars, and galaxies then previously heard in a lifetime. Apologies to my high school physics teacher. Adam’s energy is contagious and his teaching methods appeal to all ages.
What is Mt. Lemmon’s SkyNights program?
SkyNights is a nightly program offered through the University of Arizona allowing the public to gaze through a large telescope on the summit of Mt. Lemmon. The program also includes orientation at the site’s Learning Center, gazing at the sun with an eclipse viewer, watching the sunset and during twilight being oriented to the constellations with the use of binoculars.
Participants will learn not only about the stars but answers and explanations to such questions as “Why does the sunset have a green flash?” and “What color is a shadow?”
Are there any restrictions for visiting the SkyCenter?
Children must be 7 or older to participate. Exceptions are considered if a child is a very keen star gazer. A shuttle transports guests around the site and those with special needs can be accommodated.
What should I bring to the SkyNights program?
WARM clothes. I can not stress this enough. No matter how hot you are in the Arizona dessert, Mt Lemmon’s SkyCentre sits at 9157 feet elevation and it is remarkably cold. You will be instructed to bring a winter coat, hat and gloves. Wear closed toed shoes for safety and warmth.
Bring your camera to capture the amazing sunset. Binoculars are provided or you can bring your own. A light evening meal is provided in the Learning Center.
Special Tips for Participants
Bring more warm clothes that you can imagine you will need. Next time I would add a second layer of pants. Be sure your gas tank is full when you leave Tucson as there is no filling station on the mountain and a one way trip is about 90 minutes. Make sure you leave in plenty of time as the vistas on the drive up will be calling to your camera to stop and take photos.
Lastly my husband was right and I was wrong and I don’t admit that very often. The SkyNights program was one of the most fascinating evenings I have spent in a long time.
For photos of what we saw through the telescope and binoculars during our time at the SkyCenter click here. Should you attend the SkyNights program you will get your own online souvenir like this one.
More information and bookings for the SkyNights program at Mt. Lemmon’s SkyCenter can be found here.