Kitt Peak Visitor Center

Established in 1964, the Kitt Peak Visitor Center has been home to a variety of programs and activities as well as a museum and a gift shop.

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Nighttime Activities

Dark Sky Discovery Program

This program is designed for amateur astronomers, students who have had an introduction to astronomy, and those already familiar with the night sky. If you seek a beginning stargazing experience, please consider our Nightly Observing Program (NOP).

DSD Program Details

Dark Sky Discovery Program guests arrive 60-75 minutes before sunset and check in at the Visitor Center (you will be given a specific arrival time when you make a reservation). Parking is located next to the Visitor Center. After spending some time exploring our exhibits and browsing our gift shop, you'll be served a light dinner and be provided with a general orientation along with the NOP participants. How we handle and the strict limitations we place on light pollution on the mountain is an important part of this orientation. This program can only continue operating alongside the leading-edge research being done in the surrounding telescope domes if we strictly control unwanted light. Your participation in the program is also your consent to comply with our lighting restrictions. We will also work with you to have you move your car before sunset into one or more lines in the parking lot so that at the end of the evening your car will produce the least possible interference with the professional astronomical research being conducted in the many other telescope facilities on the mountain. This altered parking arrangement will also make your departure quicker and easier.

After parking changes have been made, you will head to our overlook point and observe the sun setting over the mountains and valleys of the surrounding Tohono O'odham Reservation. A presentation describing the physics of the atmosphere and the color changes you view will be provided while you enjoy the view. Views to nearly 100 miles are possible at this lookout point. Many memorable photos have been taken by our guests from this spot. After sunset, you and other Dark Sky Discovery participants will part company with the participants in the much larger NOP program and proceed with our staff to your assigned telescope.

By participating in this small group program you will have more views through the telescope during the course of the night and more opportunity to ask in-depth questions of your telescope guide. You will see planets, multiple-star systems, planetary nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies that are well placed that particular time of the year.

Go to Dark Sky Discovery Reservations to see available dates and make your reservation.

Important Information

Unfortunately the skies are not always clear above Kitt Peak. Each afternoon we make a decision about the weather outlook. You should receive a call from us on the afternoon of your program to confirm whether the program will be proceeding that night or cancelled. If you have not heard from us by 2 p.m. on the afternoon of your program, please call us at 520-318-8726 and speak with a staff member. Please make certain to have your phone with you and turned as you tour southeast Arizona on the afternoon of your program so that you may be reached. If your program will be canceled by us we will also send an email to your email address that we have on file. This is the same email address that a confirmation was sent to when you first registered for the program. If we have to cancel and you do not have your phone on and gave us a non-working email then you may drive 56 miles to find the Visitor Center closed. Please avoid this potential frustration and make certain we can reach you on the day of your program.

If you wish to cancel, then cancellations must be made no later than 24 hours prior to check-in time for your program. If you cancel or reschedule less than 24 hours of your reservation, you will be charged a cancellation deposit of $40 per person. If you fail to show up, then a 100 percent NO-SHOW FEE will be charged to your credit card on file. If you must cancel then call 520-318-8726.

Your safety while visiting is our priority. There are times we must cancel a program. In the event that the program is cancelled by us due to current or forecasted dangerous mountain weather, wildfires, equipment problems, or other factors beyond our control, then no fees will be charged to you.

Credit Cards: We require a credit or debit card to create and hold your reservation. During peak season over 1,000 people per day seek one of the 50 or fewer seats available for an evening program, often selling out far in advance. Therefore we wish to schedule and hold seats for only those who are seriously interested and able to attend. We do not charge your card in advance of your arrival. When you arrive you may pay your program fee with this card, another card, US currency, or personal check. We only charge the card on file if you or some of your party fail to show for the program or if you do not provide us with the required 24 hours notice of cancellation or request to reschedule.

PLEASE DRESS WARMLY! Kitt Peak is at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, and temperatures are 15-25 degrees cooler than in Tucson, particularly after sunset. Late fall, winter and early spring months often bring cold, windy conditions. Hats and gloves with heavy coats are highly recommended.

Make sure your vehicle has enough fuel for the round trip up to Kitt Peak. The nearest 24-hour (credit card) gas station is approximately 30 miles from the Visitor Center.

Please see the helpful information under Planning Your Visit with Us portion of this website for directions, advisories, and more helpful information.

SPECIAL CONTROL OF LIGHTING AFTER DARK

We operate in a very unique, special setting where we operate a public program while surrounded by larger astronomical research telescopes observing incredibly faint, distant objects. Astronomical research is the primary reason for the founding of Kitt Peak and it can only continue if strict steps are taken to control stray light. From start to the end of the program, you are required to follow our procedures to reduce and redirect stray light. We will have you line up your vehicle in a particular caravan formation, cover your headlights, require everyone to wait until the end of the program for departure as a single group, and restrict your use after sunset of light emitting devices such as cell phones, cameras, and tablets. Please note that no one may leave early. More details are provided at check in time. You may only participate in this program if you adhere to these and other policies that allow scientific research to continue alongside this public program. If you are unwilling to follow these procedures, please do not make a reservation for a night program and consider only visiting us for a daytime tour.


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