The kids really wanted to go to a haunted house. But they're easily scared and when they get scared they don't sleep well and I didn't want that. So I was hoping the Lowell Observatory would be a good fit. Plus, if we dressed like scientists, we got in free, which was a big incentive.
We got there at 5 and joined the Haunted Observatory Tour as our first event, passing the UFO and going to the observatory that houses the telescope used to find Pluto. (That is so cool!)
Our guide told us a story about a mountain lion that kept an astronomer trapped in there all night long. Then the kids got to move the big telescope.
We heard some other stories about people feeling weird things that I have to admit already have departed my limited brain cells, but which impressed the kids. They were thinking the tour was pretty scary. Desert Boy thought something was pushing him and got a little freaked out.
My brother and I helped perpetuate that scary feeling by checking out Mr. Lowell's mausoleum. It was a little strange.
We went to part of an indoor talk and they had some cheesy skeleton images appear on the ceiling from time-to-time. The kids were fascinated. My brother and I pretended that we didn't see them, and it drove the kids crazy. We told them they must be seeing things that adults couldn't. I think they totally bought it.
Then came a talk about Scary Astronomy: galactic cannabalism (Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies colliding), black holes, and dark matter. It kept our attention. Then we went outside and saw Highway 66 running through Flagstaff. Flagstaff isn't all that bright, as it's been designated as the first International Dark Sky City.
They opened the large observatory and we went over to take a look. (Well, I had to play around with a night sky photo too!) The Milky Way is not super bright because of the city, but it was definitely observable. Lowell Observatory uses most of the Mars campus (where we were) as an educational and money-making tool to support research in more distant observatories located in darker areas.
Inside the observatory we got to look through this huge telescope at a globular star cluster in the constellation Pegasus. Everything was red so that our night vision wasn't affected.
We finished the evening with Freaky Physics, which was a fun display of various physics tricks. The best was the last, putting boiling water into liquid nitrogen, which made a huge cloud.
And what were our costumes? I totally forgot to take photos of them. My brother and I are already scientists in real life, so our costumes were pretty lame. Desert Girl wore her caving helmet and kneepads from earlier in the day and was a speleologist. Desert Boy wore a USGS shirt that looked like a lab coat and developed his persona: a USGS lab scientist who studies bats and white-nose syndrome. It made me proud.
When we got back to my brother's house, the kids decided they didn't want to sleep in a room by themselves. They had been sufficiently scared that they wanted to sleep in the same room as mom. It's a good thing we skipped the haunted house!