Summer Stargazing: 5 Best Observatory Trips - United Hub
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Summer stargazing: 5 best observatory trips

By Bob Cooper, July 26, 2016

Heading to the mountains and looking to the stars are two cherished summer pastimes. You can combine both by flying to any of these four mountain observatories, which are among the world's finest, or an historic fifth one in the hills of Wisconsin. Once you've arrived, you can combine stargazing and learning about the heavens in observatory tours with more customary summertime activities like hiking and beach-going.

the Volcanic "Big Island" of Hawaii with a night full of stars

Kona, Hawaii

As if you need another excuse to fly to Hawaii, add one more: the Mauna Kea Observatories on the volcanic “Big Island" of Hawaii. Astronomers adore Mauna Kea's thin, dry, clean air, continually purified by trade winds, which lets them peer easily into space from the world's largest array of telescopes atop the world's tallest mountain. Yes, the tallest (13,802 feet) — but only if you start from the base of the mountain, which is four miles below sea level. It's about a 1 ½ hour drive from the resorts of Kona (or Hilo) to the 9,200 foot elevation visitor center, where you can view the sun through a solar telescope or the stars through a night scope. You can also attend a special program on most Saturday nights.

The cloudless night view of the stars in the sky in Chile

Santiago, Chile

Several of the world's finest observatories are clustered on the cloudless, high-altitude plateau of the Atacama (the driest desert in the world), making northern Chile the favorite destination of “astrotourists" from around the globe. The top two for visitors are the Paranal Observatory, with its aptly named Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the ALMA Observatory, the world's largest and priciest ($1.4 billion) astronomical project, with a telescope more powerful than the Hubble. You can venture out to tour them after flying into Santiago where you can take in: the nightlife, the culture of nearby Valparaiso, the beauty of national parks in the Andes, and the beaches and wine regions of central Chile.

Stars fill the night sky with many cacti surrounding the image

Tucson, Arizona

While golfers brave triple-digit temperatures on Tucson summer days, visitors who brave the twisty 31 mile drive from Tucson to Mt. Lemmon arrive in sweater weather at the 9,157 foot summit. The University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter is both literally and figuratively cool, as you may spot a meteor or satellite through the Southwest's largest public telescope during the nightly, five-hour stargazing program ($65/adults, $40/youth, dinner included). Summer or fall is the best time to go. Kitt Peak National Observatory, atop a 6,877-foot mountain, is also a 90 minute drive from Tucson, featuring a visitor center and daily 3 ½ hour guided tours of its massive telescopes ($9.75/adults, $3.25/youth).

Night sky filled with hundreds of bright stars in the Canary Islands

Tenerife, Canary Islands

The Canary Islands, an autonomous territory of Spain off the Moroccan coast, is a favorite getaway spot for Europeans and is cherished for its beaches, volcanoes and mild climate. On the island of Tenerife, Teide is the shared name of: the national park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the tallest mountain (12,198 feet), and the sprawling observatory situated partway up the volcanic mountain. On it you'll find a visitor center and an array of telescopes, which will give you a good look at the galaxy during guided English-language stargazing telescope tours every Friday ($34/adult, $27/youth, by reservation). A second major observatory in the Canaries, Roque de los Muchachos on the island of Las Palmas, offers daytime guided visits (70-90 minutes) by arrangement.

View of Geneva Lake during the day

Williams Bay, Wisconsin

Only the most serious astronomy buff would make a special trip to Williams Bay (pop. 2,600, elev. 1,050 feet), but it makes for a pleasant small-town diversion on a trip to Chicago, Milwaukee or Madison, which are all within a 90-minute drive. Why? Because oddly enough, the village on Geneva Lake is where you'll find Yerkes Observatory, regarded as the birthplace of modern astrophysics. Research at the University of Chicago-operated facility has continued since it opened in 1897, but visitors can stop by any day except Sunday for a 45 minute daytime tour ($8-$10), or most evenings for a telescope stargazing program ($37.50 by reservation). While in town, you can hike through the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy or visit Williams Bay Beach.

If you go

Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your stargazing adventure.

United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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