I looked through the Tucson Attractions several times and didn't see this listed as an attraction so I guess I'll put a review in here. If I'm just blind, let me know and I'll put a review there because it really should be listed there. I only found out about it through comments here on the Tucson forum. I did see it listed under Featured Advice from Traveler's but no actual reviews.
We attended the Sky Nights program http://skycenter.arizona.edu/ on Feb 22nd and it was awesome! We had planned to go to the program at Kitt Peak but someone here (Mike?) suggested this program instead. The Sky Nights program is run by the University of Arizona and is has a 32" telescope for public use. The telescope in the Kitt Peak program is only a 24" telescope. We looked through a 24" telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and there's a big difference. To add icing to the cake, Sky Nights is closer that Kitt Peak and the drive up Mt Lemmon is gorgeous.
We were to meet in the parking lot across from the ski lift 5-10 minutes before our 3:45 start. Our instructor, Keith, arrived in a small bus and drove us up past the gate area to the summit where the observatories and the classroom are located.
First we stopped outside the observatories and Keith told us what programs the different domes housed. Then we went into the Sky Nights Dome and learned how to view through the telescope. We looked at a planet during the day and looked at the sun with sunspots and solar flare through a solar telescope. Then we went to the classroom building and watched an intro video while Keith set up dinner. We had a nice meal of salad, croissant sandwiches, yogurt and a cookie.
We all got a pair of binoculars and Keith taught us how to focus them and hold them while we ate. Then we headed outside at 6 PM (15 min before sunset) and focused our binoculars on the Kitt Peak Observatory to the southeast, looked at our blue shadow and took pictures of the sunset. We watched the last few seconds of sunset with the binoculars to see the "green rim". Then we went back to the classroom to finish dinner and learn how to use a star chart while waiting for it to get darker.
We then grabbed our binoculars, star charts and red flashlights and went back to the Sky Nights observatory. It was 39 degrees when we got there and only got colder. We looked at a couple of stars through the 32" telescope. They also had a 20" (?) telescope set up alongside so people could look through both.
Then we went outside with our star charts for a while to look at Jupiter and Venus and some constellations. Then we headed back into the observatory. All but 4 of us went into the warm room! They didn't stay in there long because everyone wanted to see more things in the telescope. Keith cranked up the hot water for some hot cocoa to help keep us warm.
We looked at several other stars and nebulas and then rode the bus back to the heated classroom for some more discussion. Keith made up this custom webpage for our program documenting all the activities we did and items we saw during our class: caelumobservatory.com/outgoing/skynights/han… Then we filled out a quick questionaire/review of the program and we loaded on the bus to go back to our cars.
I highly recommend this program to anyone that has even the slightest interest in astronomy. We combined it with a morning hike in Sabino Canyon and it was the best day of our trip.
When they say dress warm they mean it. You aren’t moving around so it’s hard to stay warm. The classroom is heated but the observatory isn’t and you’ll spend quite a bit of time outside. And depending on the direction the telescope is pointed, it may even be windy inside the observatory. I wore long underwear under my hiking pants and long sleeved shirt and had gloves and a hat and a med weight primaloft jacket and I was cold. I’m glad I thought to bring a second pair of socks at the last minute.
They do have a small gift shop in the classroom building where they have a few hand warmers, blankets and knit hats for sale along with matted photos taken with the Sky Nights telescope and star charts.Edited: 2:34 pm, February 29, 2012