Due to the immense distances between planetary objects, astronomers can see slightly into the future via powerful telescopes, just enough to become extremely wealthy by betting on interplanetary moonsports. Discover other stellar secrets with today's Groupon: for $24, you get a ticket to the SkyNights astronomy program at Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter ($48 value).
The SkyCenter, located at the 9,157-foot peak of Mount Lemmon, is a cutting-edge astronomy facility operated by the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. Amateur astronomers and homesick, gaseous beasts from Venus alike can gaze in wonderment through the 32-inch Schulman telescope, the largest public telescope in Arizona. The observatory is built on a light-pollution-free area where expert instructors can assist visitors in locating binary stars, planets and moons, star clusters, nebulae, and Oprah’s offshore bank accounts in the course of this four- to five-hour program. Early in the evening, after the included light dinner and tour of the facilities, hopeful Hubbles receive instruction on using star charts and binoculars in the newly refurbished learning center. Guests then politely watch the sun's long-awaited departure from a striking mountain overlook before being whisked away on the observatory's free shuttle. Sunset often brings out surprise guests, such as satellites, comets, and the sun's estranged, vampiric alter ego. As the sky darkens, visitors head to the observatory dome, where helpful instructors point out the various visible cosmic bodies.
The SkyCenter is an approximately 90-minute drive from the center of Tucson, and drivers are encouraged to visit a filling station before making the gas-station-free trip up the mountain. Guides request that parents leave children under 7 at home out of respect for their fellow SkyNighters and because the night sky is very prone to getting broken and sticky.
Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter
A small group of explorers stands beneath an open dome of night sky as pinpricks of starlight glitter against the expanse's dark blues and blacks. Each spot of light even seems to look much clearer from here—likely because the group is standing 9,157 feet above sea level. At the Stewart Observatory inside Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at the mountain's summit, scientists guide visitors through the use of gear such as a 32-inch Schulman telescope—the state's largest public viewing telescope—to probe the far reaches of space to learn about celestial phenomena and take in magnified images of the universe just above.
Days and nights at the center bring a slew of learning experiences to budding astronomers. Accompanied by University of Arizona scientists, Discovery Days lead explorations of topics such as tree rings, hummingbirds, and meteorology, frequently beckoning students into the surrounding outdoors. During nightly SkyNights programming, groups summit Mt. Lemmon for a five-hour evening of dining and stargazing at the observatory. One-on-one time with heavenly bodies comes courtesy of Astronomer Nights, wherein site staffers grant singles or pairs lodging, private access to the Schulman telescope, and the chance to contribute directly to the field upon discovering a supernova, nebula, or handlebar mustache on the man in the moon.
Periodically, the scientific team also expounds on specific topics, such as digital celestial imaging, with the public in multiple-day workshops. Each participant builds on the Stewart Observatory's list of achievements since 1970, which include furthering infrared astronomy, surveying the moon for Apollo lunar landings, and searching for near-Earth asteroids.