Observatory Thursday in a ceremony at the astronomy village Rancho Hidalgo, near Animas, New Mexico. Also attending will be Patsy Tombaugh, widow of Pluto-discoverer Clyde Tombaugh; David H. Levy, celebrated comet-discoverer and Astronomy contributing editor; and Gene Turner, the Rancho Hidalgo developer.
"I'm thrilled to finally be dedicating our observatory," says Eicher. "We've wanted a dark-sky observatory for the magazine for 25 years, and I can't wait to start looking at the stars!"
The observatory, located near Tombaugh's personal telescope (which now resides in Pluto Park), houses a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a dedicated Hydrogen-alpha (Hα) solar telescope. The solar scope will provide images to the magazine's web site at Astronomy.com - Interactive Star Charts, Planets, Meteors, Comets, Telescopes, and the larger telescope will capture wide-field nighttime images through a variety of cameras. The Astronomy staff will operate both instruments remotely through a secure web interface from its offices in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
The site will also provide the opportunity for Astronomy to test new equipment and host future star parties in nearly ideal conditions. "We've observed from the same area many times," says Eicher, "and we couldn't have chosen a better place for the observatory."
Rancho Hidalgo, along with another observing-centered village Turner established in the area, is ideally suited for amateur astronomy. The dry desert air provides low humidity, and the high altitude offers freedom from sky-obscuring particulates while moderating the temperatures. Most strikingly, the community's strict lighting rules safeguard a dark night sky.
"Not only is it wonderfully dark, it's steady," says Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich. "We'll be under some of the finest skies in North America."
"The editors of Astronomy are thrilled to be able to bring our readers and web viewers new and exciting views of the universe using this observatory," says Eicher. "We are grateful to Gene Turner for his partnership, which made this possible, and to Kalmbach Publishing Company's Butch Boettcher, Chuck Croft, Jim Schweder, and Kevin Keefe for supporting the idea."