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Continued: Arizona observatory puts our world in perspective

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 30, 2013 - 3:49 PM

Earth isn’t so bad, either

Block himself holds his own with the stars. Geeky-smart, he recently was honored for his work in “bringing the cosmos to the people.” The astrophotographer’s images are regularly featured on NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” (apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html).

The SkyNights program is his baby. It’s offered almost nightly throughout the year, canceled only for overcast skies or special events. Reservations are necessary, and best made months in advance. (Do so at skycenter.arizona.edu.) Tickets are $60 for adults and $30 for ages 7-17, and includes what was described as a “light dinner” but was a hearty array of food that Block brings up from a local Costco.

Getting to the site is an education in itself, a 25-mile winding drive 6,000 feet up Mother Earth. (Dress warm; even summer nights can be chilly.)

The climb encompasses six vegetation zones — like driving from Mexico’s deserts into the fir forests of Canada. Give yourself plenty of time to pause at the many turnouts with explanatory markers.

Arriving at the observatory itself was almost anticlimactic, with its few sheds and what appeared to be five large white mushrooms amid the pines. These are the observatories, used by astronomers from around the world.

That we were among them is a privilege, Block said. “Most of humanity have not seen the universe as clearly as we are able to.”

The research done at the center is the ultimate night job, of which we were reminded when it was time to leave.

In what proved a not-as-tricky-as-it-sounded maneuver, we drove the first several hundred feet with our headlights turned off. Any artificial light, however brief, could interfere with an astronomer’s work.

We descended the mountain into Tucson’s grid of lights, feeling smaller. But wiser.

 

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185







 

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