Anyone who's been fortunate enough to find themselves miles from civilization in the American Southwest on a clear night can tell you there's no better place to view the stars. No wonder, then, that the world's most advanced optical telescope reigns atop a mountain about 175 miles (282 kilometers) east of Phoenix, Ariz. Known as the Large Binocular Telescope, it's one of three important telescopes located at the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO). With the help of its two 27-foot (8.4 meter) wide mirrors and its location in one of the darkest places on Earth (that is, not a lot of light pollution), it promises to capture some of the most breathtaking images of the universe ever seen.
Naturally, visitors to MGIO won't get to operate the sophisticated eye in the sky, but there are plenty of other fascinating things for them to do at the nearby visitors' center called Discovery Park. Here, guests can try their hand at astronomy as they peer deep into the sky through a research-grade, 20-inch (51-centimeter) Cassegrain reflector telescope. Guests to Discovery Park can also explore a number of exhibits geared toward astronomy, see one of the world's largest camera obscuras and even take a ride on Space Shuttle Polaris, a full-motion simulator that takes riders on a tour of the solar system. No doubt about it: Visiting MGIO and Discovery Park is out of this world.
The engineering behind the Mount Graham International Observatory is certainly impressive, but if you're itching to check out an engineering marvel firsthand, you'll want to head about 400 miles (644 kilometers) northwest to our next destination.