By Mackenzie Tatananni For Dailymail.Com
21:48 02 Dec 2023, updated 21:48 02 Dec 2023
- Kitt Peak National Observatory offers nightly stays with unparalleled views of outer space
- Groups of four guests are invited to use one of four powerful telescopes and are assisted by an expert scientist
- Celestial bodies such as Jupiter, Mars and Pluto may be viewable all in one night
An Arizona observatory is providing unrivaled views of the night sky as part of a thousand-dollar package that offers guests the full astronomer experience.
The National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, a federally-funded research center, has been welcoming overnight visitors for almost three decades.
The custom program – which starts at $945 on Eventbrite and may total $1,350 with fees – appoints four guests ‘visiting astronomers’ at one of four designated telescopes.
‘Visual observing and imaging of amazing deep-sky objects are both possible,’ the listing reads. ‘If you have ever wondered what it’s like to be an astronomer, this program is for you.’
Upon making the trek to Kitt Peak National Observatory, 56 miles outside Tucson, visitors will become acquainted with the premises before hunkering down until dark, when the real fun begins.
A visit runs from 3pm to 11am the following day. Upon arrival at the Visitor Center, guests are introduced to their telescope operator, who will lead them to their dorms in a rustic building styled like a 1950s motel.
After dinner at the cafeteria, and as soon as a telescope becomes available, visitors are unleashed upon the night sky.
The telescope operator will help them use the powerful scientific instruments and locate certain deep-sky objects.
This professional may compile an observing list, or leave it up to the guests. Celestial bodies such as Jupiter, Mars and Pluto may be viewable all in one night, depending on conditions.
The NOIRLab encourages prospective visitors to inquire in advance if certain objects will be visible on their trip, as ‘parts of the sky will not be above the horizon on a given night and some objects are too faint to see.’
However, ‘no prior experience in astronomy is necessary to participate.’
Kitt Peak was formerly closed due to the pandemic and the 2022 Contreras Fire, which charred trees and seared the road leading to the observatory.
The flames knocked out grid power and caused damage to the interior that took months to assess. It also caused the loss of one dorm, one cabin on the southwest ridge and a shed behind the fire barn.
The NOIRLab facilities reopened to the public in June 2023, including locations in Hawaii and Chile.
The overnight program at Kitt Peak, which launched around 1998, has proven to be especially popular – with all dates are currently sold out through the end of the year.
The facilities are located a whopping 2096 meters up the mountain, which sits on land belonging to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Guests may use the Levine 0.4-meter telescope and the 0.5-meter telescope, both enclosed by domes, and a roll-off roof observatory that offers striking views of the Milky Way.
Bob Davis, a former senior editor at the EuroJournal, penned a piece about his experience.
He said the group was joined by Mike Murray, a retired rocket engineer, who led them on a campus tour and gave a painstakingly detailed rundown of how telescopes worked.
‘Before we arrived, he’d sent us a 40-page menu of sorts, with pictures of the galaxies – enormous spheres, spirals and clusters – we could potentially see,’ Davis said.
‘But once we were there, dwarfed by the heavens, we let him take the wheel and choose his favorite highlights.’
Davis and friends began stargazing under a clear, moonless sky. While he enjoyed the experience, he noted that the telescopes malfunctioned and stopped working on several instances.
However, he was sent a partial refund – ‘which I returned, explaining I had no complaints,’ he said.
Representatives say malfunctions are partly due to the observatory ramping up its visitor services so rapidly after the pandemic shutdown.
Refunds are offered in full, minus the Eventbrite fee, if the facility is forced to cancel the program itself due to unpredictable weather or ‘other safety concerns beyond our control.’
Other telescopes guests may see on their tour are among the most impressive in the world.
One, the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter telescope, is renowned for its discovery of methane ice on Pluto.
The enormous WIYN 3.5-meter telescope, whose NEID instrument is designed to measure the motion of stars with extreme precision, is a state-of-the-art exoplanet hunter.
While decommissioned, the McMath–Pierce solar telescope was for many decades the largest solar telescope on the globe.