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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Overnight Telescope Observing Program

OTO Program Details

The Overnight Telescope Observing Program (OTOP) is designed to provide you with an extended experience viewing and imaging the wonders of the night sky. You and one of our well qualified staff spend most of the night using one of Kitt Peak's three public telescopes and associated equipment, exploring the wonders of the night sky.

This program can accommodate any interest and ability level from beginner to serious amateur astronomer; however, no prior experience with a telescope is necessary to participate and enjoy. A strong desire to view the night sky is the primary requirement. This program is often given as a very special gift to interested loved ones for special occasions.

You will arrive in the early afternoon, generally no later than 4pm, to meet with your guide. The guide will provide an orientation, help you check into your room, introduce you to the staff cafeteria, and provide you with a map of the mountaintop and discuss the schedule for the evening. You begin your dedicated observing at a Visitor Center telescope soon after the conclusion of the large audience Nightly Observing Program. You can observe right up to sunrise, if you wish before retiring to rest in your dormitory room.

Three meals are included and guests rest in their assigned room at the end of the night. Checkout time is 2pm on the following day. This is naturally a weather dependent program.

This program will be conducted in such a way as to minimize interference with the research programs on Kitt Peak, primarily through light pollution controls which your guide will discuss with you. Your participation in this program is your consent to comply with and adhere to our lighting control procedures.

Observing Types

  • Visual Observing: Peer through an eyepiece all night long, and see everything from planets to star clusters, nebulae and other galaxies.
  • CCD Image Taking: You will learn how to take astronomical data, calibrate it and process it until a high resolution color picture of your favorite astronomical vista materializes.
  • Webcam and DSLR Imagery: With DSLR imaging guests can typically go home with 10-12 quick images of objects.

Important Information

Your guide will communicate with you regarding anticipated weather conditions for your evening. If there is a high probability of clouds or fog and you wish to reschedule you may do so without penalty. Please understand that our best, most well-informed prediction of the weather on the night of your program is not a guarantee of the weather. Should you arrive on the mountain and the weather makes observing impossible, we do not ask you to pay the program fee. You must still pay the room & board fee in order to cover these operating costs.

The question of weather is one of the most important questions that can be asked. First of all, there is some "risk" involved in trying to participate in the Overnight Telescope Observing Program. Most participants are from out-of-state or other countries and make plans to fly to Tucson. If the weather should become uncooperative, we cannot refund plane tickets, travel expenses, etc. You alone bear those costs and the risk. You may feel comforted to know that professional astronomers are in exactly the same boat, under exactly the same skies. In a sense, they have even more invested: should a professional astronomer fail to collect the needed data when awarded time on a telescope on the particular nights of their visit, that astronomer goes home empty handed and must go to "the end of the line" in the competition for new telescope time. This wait could be many months or even years!

Always bring plenty of very warm clothing to the mountain! The temperature on Kitt Peak is generally 15 to 25 °F cooler than in Tucson. Your entire program occurs outdoors in an unheated telescope dome. The combination of wind chill, high altitude and the sedentary nature of telescope viewing or imaging can make you feel very cold. Please plan accordingly.

We are continually taking reservation requests. Since our schedule changes daily we are unable to post open dates. In order to make sure you get the date you are interested in contact us as far in advance as you can. We need a minimum of one month in order to schedule this program. The program is not offered in July and August due to a high probability of clouds, rain and electrical storms during this period.

The combination of specialized staff scheduling, availability of staff dormitory rooms, telescope usage schedules and high demand for this special program can limit our ability to accommodate your first choice of dates.

To make a reservation please contact our staff via the on-line reservation request form:

On-line Reservation Request Form

(our preferred and typically quicker method of contact)

Due to the popularity of the OTOP, please try to make your reservation at least 2 months in advance. It is difficult for us to accommodate short notice OTOP reservations.


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