Citizen Staff Writer
It’s you, your significant other and the stars. No, it’s not your backyard, but Mount Lemmon.
Telescope viewing will be open to the public on top of the mountain after years of anticipation.
The plan was put in motion after Steward Observatory received several requests from the public to use the telescopes, said Bob Patterson, operations manager for the observatory.
“I’m glad we decided to do something about it,” Patterson said. “We are excited and look forward to the reactions of the public.”
Participants will be able to sign up for the evening observatory program or an overnight program, said Valerie Grindle, Mount Lemmon Sky Center executive director.
The evening program will cost $48 per person but groups with more than 10 members will each pay $40, Grindle said. Overnight program participants pay $500 for one or two people.
Participants will be provided with a light meal, binoculars, a flashlight and a star chart for the evening program, said Adam Block, Mount Lemmon Sky Center coordinator.
“During sunset, we will go to one of the edges of the mountains to watch the sunset,” said Block, one of the astronomers giving the tours. “People usually don’t take the time to do it. It’s a beautiful thing.”
About 16 dorm rooms have been renovated for the overnight guests, Grindle said. Guests will have access to a dining room, kitchenette and a meeting place.
Only 20 participants will be allowed for each evening program session, Grindle said.
“We are limiting the number of people we accept for each session because we want people to have hands-on experience,” Grindle said. “The overnight program is like a one-on-one experience with the guide. The evening program is built for a more group setting.”
“The phones have already started ringing,” Grindle said. “This morning, we were already filling up for Memorial Day. We are taking reservations through 4th of July.”
For the next few weeks, a 24-inch RC Optical Systems telescope, valued at $200,000 to $300,000, will be used while a 32-inch version is being built by the manufacturer, Block said.
One of seven telescope domes at the observatory has been remodeled, the walls painted purple to create a welcoming atmosphere.
“It doesn’t look like a normal observatory. It has a bathroom and a warm room because it gets cold up here,” Block said. “We want it to look like a public space.”
Constellations and galaxies that can be seen vary with the seasons, Block said.
New asteroids are regularly discovered on the mountain, and the public can get the chance to name an asteroid if it isn’t found in the national database, Block said.
Depending on demand, the programs will be available for up to five days a week, Grindle said.
The Sky Center will be made available to the public Friday and reservations will need to be made ahead of time. The number is 626-8122.
Grindle hopes to go from 200 to 2,000 visitors a year.
“We hope to give people a new reason to come up to Mount Lemmon,” he said.