Nightly Observing Program at Kitt Peak Visitor Center
COMMONLY ASKED NOP QUESTIONS
Where do I make my reservation?
Preferred method is online. You will need a credit card number to secure your reservation. You can call the Visitor Center directly at 520-318-8726. Since there is only one phone line it is hard to reach staff sometimes especially during our busy season Feb-May.
How far in advance do I need to reserve and purchase tickets?
During the months of February, March and April we will be booked up well in advance. Reservations for those months needs at least a month’s notice. Outside of those months a week or two in advance is sufficient to secure your spot. We can take reservation up to 24 hours in advance. Same day reservations are only available by call the visitor center directly.
How long a drive is it from Tucson?
Please allow about 90 minutes from the University of Arizona campus. It takes about 15 minutes to drive up from the turnoff at 386. Participants originating from outside the city limits will need to allow appropriate additional travel time. You may also want to allot extra time to appreciate the spectacular vistas from the mountain road lookouts.
How long is the program? (travel time and program time)
Starting from the University of Arizona campus, it takes about an hour and 15 min to drive up to Kit Peak. City traffic can make this a bit longer or shorter depending on the time of day. Be sure you start with a full tank of gas! There are no filling stations past the Three Points Junction. The Nightly Observing Program generally lasts 3 to 4 hrs past sunset.
Is a map available with directions to the site?
A map to Kitt Peak is available on our website under Planning Your Visit. Directions: The observatory is located 56 miles from the University of Arizona campus. It is an easy drive on all paved roads. Once you make the turn off to state route 386 and head up the mountain, please watch for wildlife, cattle, and obstacles on the road like rocks. If you prefer not to drive, you can call Adobe Shuttle at 520-609-5093 they provide door to door service for a fee. The drive up to Kitt Peak is one of the most scenic drives; make sure you allow time to take pictures. There are plenty of turn-offs along the highway.
PLEASE NOTE: THE ENTRANCE GATE AT THE BASE OF THE MOUNTAIN WILL LIKELY BE ½ CLOSED WITH A SIGN SAYING ROAD CLOSED. PLEASE DRIVE AROUND THE GATE AND PRECEDE UP TO THE SUMMIT.
Where and when do we meet?
Once you arrive on the Summit, please park at the Visitor Center parking lot and check in at the Visitor Center. Restrooms can be found off the public parking lot. The entrance to the VC is a short walk past the donut shaped mural. Feel free to stay inside the Visitor Center to look at the exhibits or watch a movie. Staff will direct you on what to do next.
Can I use my car’s headlights near the observatory?
You will not need your headlights during arrival. Departure is a different story. Since it will be dark when you leave and the observatory comes alive at night, you will be caravanned with your parking lights down the mountain for the first mile. You will then be allowed to use your headlights down the mountain. Again watch for rocks, cows and wildlife. Those who have automatic headlights will have their lights covered in the parking lot before you depart. You are not allowed up on observatory grounds after dark.
What other items should I bring?
We will provide you with a set of binoculars for a portion of the program after it has become dark. Of course, you are welcome to bring your own binoculars, as well as a camera to capture our beautiful sunsets. Please, no flash photography after sunset. And remember to bring warm clothing! Bring your cell phone with you but make sure it is turned off. There is very little reception from Three Points on. Cell phones also interfear with the radio telescopes found on the mountain.
What should I wear?
Kitt Peak National Observatory is at an altitude of 6,875 feet. At this elevation, the weather is very unpredictable and subject to change. Bring warm clothing regardless of the time of year - winter coats, hats, and gloves. While the Visitor Center is heated, the telescope is open to the night air. We suggest that you bring layered clothing. It is better to have extra warm clothes and be comfortable rather than be cold for the entire program. Please wear closed-toed, sturdy shoes for your warmth and safety.
What is the program like?
After entering the Visitor Center, you will have a short time to walk around explore the exhibits, shop, or watch a short video. One little known fact is that Kitt Peak is known for its Tohono O’odham crafts and has the best basket prices around. Once the program has started in the Visitor Center, the presenter will introduce the guests to the facilities and mountain. You will then get a chance to eat your light meal (sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit and a drink). After you have eaten we will escort you to a picturesque mountain overlook to observe the sunset (a short walk). There, staff will point out various telescopes on the mountain - 27 in all - and allow you to enter one of the research facilities to get an up-close, and personal view of a working telescope. After sunset, staff will instruct guests in the use of star charts and binoculars and give a general orientation to the night sky. We will look at some of the brightest stars and constellations as well as a number of deep sky objects visible with binoculars. Often, surprises such as meteors and satellites, the international space station make an appearance. Binocular and star chart orientation begins approximately 25-30 minutes after sunset and lasts 30-45 minutes. After a short restroom break we will then head up to one of the three public observatories for stargazing. We try to see everything from planets to other galaxies. Typically we view at least one example of every type of deep sky object: binary stars, moon and planets, star clusters, nebulae (star birth and death), galaxies, and comets or asteroids. Every season has something new to see, and the exact objects that are available depend on the time of year.
How many people will participate?
The minimum number is 8 and the maximum number of participants each night is 46, so that everyone has time to look through one of the three telescopes and to ask questions. If your group is larger, please call us at 520 -318-8726 to see if we can accommodate you. We can take up to 100 at a time.
Can children participate?
Children must be 8 years or older to attend the evening observing program (for safety reasons and in consideration for the other members of the group). If your child loves astronomy and is slightly younger, please contact us to see if an accommodation can be made on your chosen night.
Will the program require strenuous activity?
No. There is a short walk of about ¾ mile to the sunset location. It goes up a small hill. All of the observatories have steps that need to be climbed. The main observatory has an elevator. The ground around the telescopes may be a little uneven in areas, but there is very little walking.
Are the facilities available to people with special needs?
Yes. There is an elevator at one of the domes. If need be, transportation may be provided to our sunset overlook. If you have other concerns, please call us at (520)-318-8726.
What if it is cloudy on my scheduled night?
Cloudy nights do happen often. They will not prevent us from providing you with an out-of-this-world experience. You will be called on the day of your reservation to discuss the evening’s program. We cannot predict the weather. Should it appear that significant clouds may be present, you will be given a choice to go ahead and attend the program in the hope that it clears, or to reschedule. We always try to emphasize telescope viewing, and will make every effort to do so on a given night. We strive to offer cloudy night experiences especially for our many visitors from out of town, who do not have an opportunity to reschedule. Typical activities include viewing the sunset, touring professional observatories (yes were the worlds largest), and participating with hands-on activities.
Can I smoke or drink alcohol at the observatory?
Alcohol (consumption or being under the influence) is NOT allowed on site by tribal law. Smoking is only allowed in your vehicle and all smoking material must be extinguished inside that vehicle.
Are Pets Allowed?
No, with the exception of service animals.
Are we allowed to come up during the day for one of your telescope tours and stay for the NOP?
Yes, as long as you have a reservation for the NOP. The last tour is at 1:30 and lasts around 1.5 hrs. You are more than welcome to stay at the Visitor Center until the evening program starts. The Observatory grounds close at 4pm each day. NOP start and end times vary through out the year and are based on sunset time.