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 interactive displays and browsing our gift shop, you'll be served a light dinner and experience an introduction to astronomy and the National Observatory.
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.
Then we'll head to our overlook point and observe the sun setting over the Tohono O'odham Reservation. Views to nearly 100 miles are possible at this lookout point. Many memorable photos have been taken by program participants from this spot.
You will learn how to use a planisphere (a star chart) to find stars and constellations in the sky. Then we will distribute a pair of binoculars to each guest before stepping outside and identifying constellations, stars, and many other interesting objects.
Finally, you will gather in one or more of the Visitor Center's domes to observe the heavens in all their grandeur through one of our research-grade reflecting telescopes. You will see highlights of the particular time of year like planets, multiple-star systems, planetary nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. Learn about these objects as we view them and find out what a light-year really means. Ask questions, and above all, have fun discovering your universe!
The program runs for four hours after sunset and is an experience unlike any other.
Go to NOP Reservations to see available dates and make your reservation.
Unfortunately the skies are not always clear above Kitt Peak. Each afternoon we make a decision about the weather outlook and invite people to visit the mountain even on cloudy nights! The Nightly Observing Program is held regardless of cloudy or clear weather. In the event of cloudy weather, dinner is provided followed by a series of unique indoor presentations, hands on activities, and behind the scene telescope tours. The mountain top is beautiful and enjoyable even on cloudy nights.
We do not charge your card in advance of your arrival, except as outlined below. Refunds or discounts due to inclement weather during all or part of the program are not available. Mountain weather can change rapidly and unpredictably, from clear to cloudy or cloudy to clear.
If you have a reservation that you wish to cancel or reschedule, call the Visitor Center at 520-318-8739 or 520-318-8720 and make these arrangements at least 24 hours in advance of your scheduled start time. If you cancel or reschedule less than 24 hours of your reservation, you will be charged a cancellation deposit of $25 per person. If you fail to show up, then a 100 percent NO-SHOW FEE will be charged to your credit card on file. In cases when the Visitor Center informs you on the day of your visit that the regular Nightly Observing Program will be replaced by our Alternate Astronomy Program because of weather conditions, you may cancel or reschedule free of charge.
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. We do not charge your card in advance of your arrival.
Credit Cards: We do not charge your card in advance of your arrival. 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, which means we often sell out far in advance. Therefore we wish to schedule and hold seats only for those who are seriously interested and able to attend. When you arrive you may pay your program fee with this card, another card, US currency, or personal check. We charge the card on file only 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 information under Planning Your Visit with Us for directions, advisories, and more helpful information.
By registering for this program you are agreeing to follow all our light control procedures before, during, and after the program. 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.
We cannot make accessibility accommodations that in any way alter our tight lighting control procedures. Requests for services requiring any special illumination outdoors or within the telescope domes will not be granted. This program and the astronomical research being conducted in nearby domes requires the darkest possible environment.
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Kitt Peak National Observatory