We've spent the last year in the laboratory putting Phoenix under the microscope to reveal hundreds of specimens of the best culture, outdoor adventures, shopping, dining, and nightlife the city has to offer. And we're finally ready to publish our results. Nerd alert! Now presenting Scientific Phoenix.
Best Crater You Can't Visit: Roden Crater
You're going to need to pass a killer job application to see Arizona artist James Turrell's longest-running project. Turrell is an internationally acclaimed artist who works with natural and man-made light and environments to create ever-changing installations. His pieces have been featured in museums around the world, and since the '70s, he's been working on his biggest installation -- inside an extinct, 400,000-year-old volcanic crater in northern Arizona. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Crater You Can Visit: Meteor Crater
About 50,000 years ago, a chunk of rock the size of several freight-train engines fell from the sky near what is now Winslow, hitting the ground with a blast not unlike that of a nuclear bomb. In just 10 seconds, the explosion forged Meteor Crater, which is 4,000 feet across. That's kind of scary to contemplate. But also really nifty. We found the drive out to Meteor Crater well worth the long straightaway of Interstate 40, since we linked up the trip with visits to the Petrified National Forest and Homolovi State Park. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Place to Test Drive a Space Rover: Arizona -- NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) and NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) team
While Arizona's frequent haboobs, blazing summers, and year-round dryness can be a challenge for residents, it's also the perfect weather for testing equipment we one day hope to send into space. NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) team descends on the Arizona desert every summer to put new space-exploration technology and principles through the torture of an Arizona summer. While they are in the desert, the D-RATS team perform a variety of simulated space missions. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Rocket Scientists: Orbital Sciences Corporation
Security is phenomenally tight at both of the sprawling high-tech facilities owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation in the East Valley. It's so tight that even Tom Cruise in full-on Mission: Impossible mode couldn't penetrate either of its buildings. Given the sort of top-secret stuff being designed and built inside, such security is to be expected. As the company's name portends, the technicians and engineers of Orbital Sciences create rockets, missiles, and other flame-spewing space projectiles for NASA and the Department of Defense, as well as a number of satellites. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Place for a Ride to Outer Space: Challenger Space Center
As each year passes, British billionaire Richard Branson seems to be inching closer to making his dreams of providing jaunts beyond the stratosphere a full-fledged reality. According to the website for his space tourism company Virgin Galactic, however, booking a ticket aboard a sub-orbital vehicle like the VSS Enterprise is expected to cost a hefty $200,000 per person. In other words, zooming well beyond the Kármán line, the sky-high boundary where the atmosphere ends and the rest of the universe begins, is likely going to be well beyond the means of your average person. Those seeking a more frugal foray into the final frontier (albeit of the faux variety) oughta consider an excursion to the Challenger Space Center. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Use of a Camera on Mars: Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) at Mars Space Flight Facility
Researchers at ASU helped throw the Mars Odyssey orbiter into space way back in 2001. One of the major pieces of equipment they are responsible for was the THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System). The THEMIS is much more than a super-expensive digital camera. It's a super-expensive digital camera that can take pictures of the infrared spectrum. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Arizona Astronomer: Percival Lowell
When members of the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto to dwarf planet status in 2006, we practically heard Percival Lowell spinning in his grave all the way up in Flagstaff. That's because the mathematician and astronomer dedicated the last decade of his life to helping lay the groundwork for the discovery of Pluto, which took place in 1930 at the Northern Arizona star-gazing facility he founded that bears his name. A wealthy Boston socialite who had an affinity for the wonder of the cosmos, he ventured to our neck of the woods in 1894 due to the wealth of clear skies and a lack of light pollution. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Place to See a Rocket: Titan Missile Museum
It's hard not to feel awestruck when gazing up at the 103-foot Titan II missile that's housed underground at this submerged former nuclear silo in southern Arizona. Truth be told, had things gone differentially during the Cold War, neither we nor the rocket (nor many like it) would be around right now. Thankfully, World War III never happened and the silo never got to fulfill its intended purpose. Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Place to See Other Worlds: East Valley Astronomy Club
The planets and extraterrestrial phenomena of outer space don't seem as far away anymore, thanks to the wonders of technology and the speed of the Internet. These days, wanna-be astronomers or those interested in seeing what's out there in the cosmos can easily log on to the Slooh Space Camera or similar online skywatching sites and watch both lunar and solar eclipses, as well as witness asteroids and other cosmic detritus zoom through our corner of the galaxy. But as convenient as such laptop cyber-stargazing can be, it isn't as interesting as attending one of the East Valley Astronomy Club's star parties. After all, all those twinkling stars are best seen in the great outdoors, which harks back to something Plato once stated many moons ago: "Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another." Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.
Best Rock Collection: Meteorite Vault at ASU
The researchers and scholars involved with the Meteorite Vault at Arizona State University have a Chicken Little complex. Sure, we've all claimed the sky's falling on our worst days and when we've had a little too much doomsday punch, but these academics have the rocks to prove it. In 1960, ASU purchased more than 700 meteorite samples from amateur meteorite hunter H.H. Nininger. Since, the collection has grown to more than 10,000 samples from more than 1,650 meteorite falls around the world, including a rare Martian meteorite that fell in southern Morocco in 2011 (the first Martian fall in 50 years). Read the full Best of Phoenix 2012 entry here and download the app.