Flagstaff economy to get boost from starry skies

A new six-telescope open viewing deck designed to dazzle star gazers is celebrating its grand opening October 5 at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Admission will be free that day. 

Considered one of the finest collections of telescopes for public observing, the new Giovale Open Deck Observatory is the first piece of an ambitious master plan for “Mars Hill,” the 750-acre observatory and research institute that overlooks downtown. 

The next phase of the master plan is to build the $29-million Astronomy Discovery Center that is slated to open in 2023. It will house the Universe Theatre auditorium with a wrap-around screen and the Dark Sky Planetarium, a rooftop amphitheater that will use the famously dark skies of Flagstaff as a natural planetarium dome. The observatory received a $14.5 million grant from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation to establish the center. 

The expansion will allow the observatory to increase education outreach and accommodate about 150,000 more visitors each year.

Top destination for astro tourism buffs, star gazers 

Their generous gift comes just in time, on the heels of record attendance on its 125th year.  

Now, the observatory will have more capacity to handle the crowds wanting to get closer to the sky. With the expansion, it is projected to serve approximately 250,000 visitors a year. Currently, It brings in about 100,000 visitors, according to the observatory’s website

That’s welcome news for businesses in the areas, particularly restaurants and businesses that have struggled recently with multi-year minimum wage hikes, Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce officials said. 

Visitors to observatory boon to local business 

Tourism from the observatory and other local attractions are the lifeblood of the business community, said Chamber CEO and President Julie Pastrick.

Since it was founded in 1894, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona has spurred wonder, economic development and employment as tourists visit Mars Hill, that looks down upon downtown Flagstaff.

Mars Hill is where Vesto Slipher first discovered information about the velocity of galaxies in 1912-1914 and Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. 

New deck features six telescopes for different viewing experiences

The Giovale Open Deck Observatory’s six telescopes will allow guests to view a wide range of celestial objects. They are:

-A 5.5-inch TEC wide-field refractor lens for sweeping views of star fields

-An 8-inch Moonraker Victorian refractor for close-up views of the Moon, planets and dense globular star clusters

-A 32-inch Starstructure Dobsonian reflector, powered by a gargantuan quartz mirror made by Lockwood Custom Optics, for views of nebulae and galaxies that reveal detailed structure

-A 16-inch Meade ACF catadioptric reflector for high-powered views of planets, star clusters and nebulae

-A 17-inch PlaneWave CDK catadioptric reflector equipped with a Shelyak spectrograph to reveal the elemental components of a star field in real time

-A 14-inch PlaneWave CDK catadioptric reflector equipped with a MallinCam CCD camera to show more details than your eyes can see alone

Many Arizona cities and parks ideal for starry nights

Expansion of the Mars Hill offerings are all centered around the city’s clear night skies. To protect that view, Flagstaff became the world’s first Dark Sky community in 2001.  

Many Arizona cities and parks have since received a dark sky designation from the non-profit International Dark Sky Association Association, most recently Tonto National Monument. 

Here’s a list of Dark Sky cities and parks:

Camp Verde
Fountain Hills
Grand Canyon National Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park
Village of Oak Creek
Oracle State Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Parashant National Monument
Tonto National Monument
Tumacácori National Historical Park
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Wupatki National Monument

Victoria Harker

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