Southern Arizonans can get a rare look at what goes on at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter at an open house Saturday.
The University of Arizona maintains several telescopes and other research facilities atop the Catalina Mountains. They are typically off limits to the public, except through organized events with a fee.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, the SkyCenter will open its doors – and telescope roofs – for a free open house showcasing the science that’s conducted on the mountain.
“We only have a couple of opportunities each year to open it up in combination with all of the researchers, with the U.S. Forest Service, and provide people an opportunity to see all that goes on up there. I always say it’s the best kept secret in Tucson,” said center director Alan Strauss.
The center will have telescopes pointed at Venus and at bright stars that could be visible even in the daylight. There will be displays about dark sky preservation and Arabic cultural astronomy.
Catalina Sky Survey observers will talk about their nightly search for asteroids. The UA Sky School plans to lead family activities about the geology, soil science, hydrology and flora and fauna of the mountain.
Catalina Highway is apt to be crowded on a holiday weekend, so Strauss suggests getting an early start.
Follow the road toward Mount Lemmon Ski Valley and park in the lot below the gate to the science center. On the way up the highway, learn about the four distinct habitats between the valley floor and the mountain's peak by downloading the Mount Lemmon Science Tour app developed by the UA College of Science.