If you thought catching an Arizona sunset was on the must-do list, try seeing our stars! Mesa's night sky programming is one of the most popular year-round activities for visitors to the Southwest. In Mesa, Arizona's third-largest city, you can get far enough from the bright city lights and open up your eyes to a star-studded sky. Arizona's clear desert skies offer some of the finest viewing conditions in the world for astronomical observations.
The Italian astronomer Galileo is credited with pointing the first telescope skyward almost 400 years ago and we've been entranced ever since. Travelers to Mesa can join in the night sky viewing at the free Gilbert Observatory Star Parties hosted by the East Valley Astronomy Club. The observatory is open every Friday and Saturday evening at nightfall, September through June. Held monthly, each event at The Riparian Preserve includes numerous opportunities to locate constellations, count the moons of Jupiter and rings around Saturn, and peer into the enchanting star-studded Milky Way. Star parties begin at dusk and offer some of the best opportunities to enjoy Arizona's night sky. Click here for more information and don't forget these upcoming dates June 21, July 19, August 16: http://evaconline.org/sp.html
Mesa Community College is home to Arizona's newest Planetarium. Since opening, visitors have been invited inside to view the night sky and explore the universe and solar system for free in the theater and on the rooftop observation deck as part of the Astronomy Nights program. Note* due to summer break, Astronomy Nights are not held in the months of July and August. This free public event opens back up in September, offering shows that take place every half hour from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with telescope viewing from the observation deck beginning at 7:00 p.m.
Grab your flashlight and head out to Usery Mountain Regional Park to experience the sights of the desert at night while learning about our solar system. As part of their "Stargazing for Everyone" series, experts will tell constellation stories and teach park visitors about the moon, stars, planets and galaxies while viewing the sky through several telescopes and using a sky laser. Little ones can even go on flashlight tours seeking desert animals or a scorpion hunt with black lights! For a complete listing of event dates click here www.maricopa.gov/parks/usery/. Save the date for the full moon hikes on June 13 and July 11!
Lost Dutchman State Park offers ranger-guided full moon hikes during the cycle of the full moon. No flashlights here as the moonlight is all you need to guide your path. The park also hosts monthly astronomy nights in season to teach visitors about the night sky. The park is located in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains tucked away from surrounding light pollution allowing for incredible, crisp views of the night sky in the middle of the still desert. Call ahead for complete details: http://azstateparks.com/Parks/loDU/index.html.
Watch reflections of night stars twinkle across the majestic Canyon Lake during a Twilight Dinner Cruise on Dolly Steamboat. For avid star seekers, be sure to experience their monthly Astronomy Cruises, where passengers have use of on-board telescopes to view the breathtaking beauty of the solar system under the instruction of astronomy expert Dr. Sky. Call for current tour schedules, advance reservations recommended: www.dollysteamboat.com.