Astronomy in Arizona

Take a spectacular intergalactic journey as you view the ultra-clear Arizona sky with hands-on telescope viewing and take behind-the-scenes tours of world-renowned centers for astronomy research.

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 MMT Observatory, Mount Hopkins.   Credit: Howard Lester  A gibbous moon overlooks one of Smithsonian's telescope domes, opening to prepare for night observation.  Credit: David Aguilar  A 10-meter-diameter telescope, which searches for flashes of light created when gamma rays hit Earth's atmosphere. Credit: David Aguilar  Sky watching through one of many telescopes at Smithsonian's Whipple Observatory. Credit: David Aguilar  Kitt Peak Observatory  The Observatory's giant gamma-ray telescope. Credit: David Aguilar  The observatories of Arizona's Kitt Peak. Credit: Susan Degginger/Alamy

Tour Details


The excitement of learning in-depth astronomy made me feel like a kid - I was not the only participant who made this exclamation. 

June V.

Been to China, Antarctica, Italy, Hawaii, Arizona - all with extremely competent, friendly, and helpful leaders - I'll be back! 

Doublas C.

Get set for a mind-expanding look into the universe with Astronomy in Arizona!

John H.


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Few places on Earth offer better opportunities to study astronomy than the ultra-clear skies of southern Arizona. Join us on a spectacular intergalactic journey and discover for yourself an infinite array of celestial phenomena during hands-on telescope viewing, in- depth lectures, and tours of some of the world’s great centers for astronomical research.

Highlights Include:

  • Kitt Peak National Observatory: Tour the Mayall 4-meter optical telescope, solar telescopes, and more during a full day at this site, which holds the world’s most diverse collection of astronomical observatories.
  • Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory: Gain special insight during an exclusive visit high atop 
Mt. Hopkins. Enjoy a VIP visit to see the massive
 6.5 Meter Mirror Telescope (MMT) and other powerful optical telescopes.
  • Active Star Gazing: Visit Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, part of the University of Arizona/Steward Observatory, where you’ll view planets, stars, and galaxies through the center’s 32-inch Shulman telescope and smaller telescopes. Learn how to photograph stars and planets and use sky charts to view the night sky. 


Day 1 — Tucson

Individual arrivals at the Arizona Inn in Tucson. Join fellow travelers and Smithsonian Journeys Expert David Aguilar for a welcome reception, opening remarks, and dinner. (R,D)

Day 2 — Kitt Peak National Observatory

Spend a day at Kitt Peak National Observatory located 60 miles southwest of Tucson in the Schuk Toak District on the Tohono O'odham Reservation. Kitt Peak has the world’s largest collection of optical telescopes. Visit the McMath Pierce Solar Telescope, the largest in the world, the 2.1 meter scope, and the Mayall 4-meter scope. Return to the hotel to relax before a presentation by David Aguilar. Enjoy a sumptuous buffet dinner after the lecture. (L,D)

Day 3 — Smithsonian's Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

Gather for a presentation by David Aguilar. This afternoon, depart for lunch in downtown Tucson. Continue on to the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory and board smaller vehicles for a drive up to Mt. Hopkins. Gather at Observatory Ridge to view several reflector telescopes including the 1.2- and 1.5-meter telescopes and the 10-meter-diameter optical reflector used for gamma ray studies. Then visit the 6.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT). Explore the MMT housing, a four-story structure of offices, workshops, and computer labs that rotate with the instrument during the nightly observations. Afterwards, join astronomers for a catered dinner. Descend Mt. Hopkins and view the skies through smaller telescopes at the Visitors Center. (L,D)

Day 4 — Mt. Lemmon Sky Center

Enjoy your morning at leisure, then join Smithsonian Journeys expert David Aguilar for a discussion followed by a festive lunch at the hotel. This afternoon, depart for the picturesque mountains north and east of Tucson. Late in the day arrive at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, part of the University of Arizona and the Steward Observatory. After a light meal there will be an opening presentation, then as the sky darkens, look in to the night skies of Southern Arizona. You’ll have the opportunity to view through the center’s new 32” Shulman telescope at planets, galaxies, and nebulae. Through inter-active demonstrations you’ll learn how to photograph stars and planets, use sky charts to view the night sky and more! (L,D)

Day 5 — Depart

Individual departures from hotel.