Tag Archives: Astronomy

Northern Arizona Exploration Pass – Flagstaff, Arizona

Incentive Program to Scientific Wonders of Northern Arizona

lowell-clark-domeThree premier attractions in the Flagstaff area have joined together to offer an Exploration Pass giving $2 discounts on admission to each the Lowell Observatory (see blog), Meteor Crater and the Museum of Northern Arizona. The free passes are available at the three attractions and the Flagstaff Visitor Center located next to the downtown train station.


metero-craterMeteor Crater is located 35 east of Flagstaff. View the 4,000′ across and 550′ deep crater, explore space, meteorite and asteroid exhibits in the Learning Center, watch the “Collisions and Impacts” movie or take a one-hour guided rim tour.


mna-dinosaurNine Galleries at the Museum of Northern Arizona introduces the visitor to the region through Native cultures, tribal lifeways, natural sciences and fine art. The Mystery of the Sickle-Claw Dinosaur exhibit introduces therizinosaur, the newest and strangest dinosaur skeleton found in North America.

Pick up a free Exploration Pass and discover scientific wonders from the depths of the earth to the heavens.

Lowell Observatory – Flagstaff, Arizona

Seeing Stars – The Solar System and Beyond

Delight with a Lowell Observatory visit replaced the previous week’s disappointment at the Whipple (see blog) Visitor Clowell-pluto-dome-2enter. Monday morning brought clouds and a soft rain to Sedona, the things we had planned to do were outdoor activities. We decide to drive up Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff for a couple of indoor attractions.

The Lowell Observatory campus caps Mars Hill immediately west of Flagstaff. The facility offers an interesting mix of historic and futuristic astronomy, public educational programs and scientific research.

We arrive at the Lowell Observatory Steele Visitor Center a few minutes before the beginning of the hourly tour. The “Discovery at Lowell Observatory” show in the digital space theatre, relates Lowell’s distinguished history, discovery of Pluto and current research and observations including Kuiper Belt objects in tlowell-guide-with-clark1he outer solar system. A guide leads the tour group through the campus to the dome housing the historic 24″ Alvan Clark refractor telescope. Percival Lowell spent a great deal of time observing Mars from this scope in the early 1900s. Evening programs allow public viewing of night skies – weather dependent, or course.

The official tour ends with a visit to the Rotunda Museum, a depository for historic artifacts and astronomy displays including the story of how Flagstaff was selected as the observatory’s home and a hands-on exhibit for children. We choose to take the Pluto Walk to the dome where Pluto was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Markers along the path denote planets of our solar system with fun facts, distances between “planets” are in scale.

lowell-exhibit1Back in the Visitor Center we spend time in the interactive Discover the Universe hall. Exhibits cover from how the eye sees to the order of planets from the sun.  Attractive, informative and well maintained the exhibits are in direct contrast to what we found at Whipple the week prior. A multimedia show “Lowell Observatory: A New Century of Discovery” in the Giclas auditorium reports on the construction of the 4.2-meter Discovery Channel Telescope. Because the sun was a no show on this day we did not get to view the star through the special-filtered solar filtered, an activity usually available from 9:30-9:55am. Before departing Bob spent time selecting a book in the gift shop while I canvassed the staff for lunch recommendations.

lowell-2009-poster1Significant because of the 400th anniversary of Gaileo first pointing a telescope skyward, 2009 has been designated the International Year of Astronomy. Lowell Observatory will offer special programs and exhibits throughout the year.

Flagstaff wasn’t originally on our agenda for this trip. The rain created change of plans opened the opportunity for an educational day of new experiences. By the time we returned to Sedona in late afternoon the sun made intermittent appearances. We visited Red Rocks Crossing and Bell Rock before the sunset ritual on Airport Mesa. A richly rewarding day because of plan B – even though we didn’t originally have one.

When You Go: Lowell Obsevatory Visitor Center is open daily except for major holidays. Hours March through October are 9am – 5 pm, November through February Noon – 5pm. Evening hours are Monday through Saturday 5:30 – 10pm June, July and August, Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday 5:30 – 9:30pm September through May. Reservations are not required nor accepted for public programs.

Whipple Observatory Visitors Center – Amado, Arizona

Stellar Disappointment


Whipple Observatory sits atop Mt. Hopkins in Southern Arizona

A visit to the Whipple Observatory Visitors Center brought the first major disappointment of our Southwestern Sojourn. The observatory is a facility of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. We knew before our visit that we would not be able to go to the top of Mt. Hopkins where the major telescopes are placed. Tours start mid-March and run until late fall. At 8500+ feet in elevation winter conditions are unpredictable. Reservations for tours are essential, the daily limited number of positions frequently fill weeks in advance.

We drive eight miles from the I-19 frontage road  to the visitors center. Displays are minimal with several sporting “Out of Order” signs. The best exhibit in the facility is one by the Coronado National Forest of wildlife and nature features in the area. There is a well marked nature trail beginning just before the visitor center parking lot.

whipple-vc1A video was started because there was one visitor getting VIP treatment. We saw three segments, all amateurish and dated. One discussing new changes was dated 1990 and another had to be at least ten years earlier than that. The third had little narration. A avid amateur or professional astronomer might find something to gleam but for most of us it went right over our heads.

From observing other visitors  I sense we weren’t the only ones disappointed in the lack of information available. I think we all expected more from Harvard and the Smithsonian, we understand the primary mission is research; however, this is a lost opportunity to connect with an interested public.

Trying to elicit information about the tours was fruitless from the elderly lady behind the counter. They are approximately six-hours long  and you need to bring your own lunch. But I was unsuccessful in finding out what they cover. If they are no better than the visitors center I wouldn’t bother. But, they do book up so there must be something worthwhile.

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of astronomical telescopes. From our experience we’ll head to Kitt Peak or Lowell Observatory for an astronomy fix.

The best I can say is that someone is doing a good job keeping the restrooms clean.