By John Larson
SOCORRO – Star-gazers from around the world are converging on Socorro and New Mexico Tech this week for the Enchanted Skies Star Party.
The four day event began Wednesday afternoon and ends with a Saturday night viewing at El Camino Real International Heritage Center, which boasts some of the darkest skies in the county.
Registered participants are able to enjoy a night of observing atop Socorro County's South Baldy, part of the Magdalena Ridge and home to the new Magdalena Ridge Observatory. At an elevation of 10,600 feet, it is a prime astrophotography and observing location.
Participants will also have access to an insider's tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, located 45 miles west of Socorro. The VLA is currently undergoing a transformation into a new research instrument: the Expanded Very Large Array. Scheduled to be completed in 2012, the new state-of-the-art electronics and software will have completely transformed the VLA into a much more capable research tool with more than ten times the VLA's current sensitivity. This transformation will ensure that the VLA/EVLA will remain one of the best radio telescopes in the world.
On Saturday, the last day of the Star Party, a Southwestern style Chuck-Wagon dinner is prepared and served at the El Camino Real International Heritage Center, ESSP's official "Dark Sky Site." Observing at the Heritage Center often goes well into the mornings at this very dark site.
Dave Finley, Star Party co-founder and public information officer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Array Operations Center at New Mexico Tech, said activities include guided tours of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and Very Large Array, and the U.S. Air Force’s Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system at White Sands Missile Range, which can track objects as small as a basketball more than 20,000 miles in space.
“We do have a number of free events on Friday,” Finley said. “Two very interesting lectures are open to the public. One is Beginning Amateur Astronomy with Jason Speights of New Mexico Tech, and the other is The Bill Spargo Memorial Lecture, Learning The Constellations, given by Great Bear Cornucopia, a ranger at Chaco Canyon.”
Viewing at Etscorn Observatory is also open to the public Friday night.
He said the public may also take part in the dark skies viewing at El Camino Real International Heritage Center late Saturday, following the campfire lecture.