Astrophotographer Jack Newton was one of
Arizona Sky Village’s first inhabitants. His
attached observatory houses a 16-inch Meade
Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Newton
routinely photographs the Sun and searches
for supernovae. Michael E. Bakich
In an era when really dark skies are increasingly hard to find, a group of diehard observers has set up a retreat catering to the fondest wishes of amateur astronomers. In the deep southern part of Arizona, east of Tucson and near the New Mexico border, stands the Arizona Sky Village (ASV). This impressive collection of buildings, a resort community for those seeking peaceful observing sessions, offers some of the finest skies for astronomical observing I've ever seen.
A few days ago, Senior Editor Michael Bakich and I visited ASV and observed with the group's 30-inch, computer-controlled reflector. The driving force behind ASV, Gene Turner, is a perpetually energetic real-estate developer and amateur astronomer from Florida who is preserving pristine territory near Portal, Arizona, underneath this dark sky. Amateur astronomers can buy lots at ASV and build houses with observatories in them, as many have already done, nestled along the base of the Chiricahua Mountains, along Cave Creek Canyon. Among the most-active residents of ASV are Jack and Alice Newton, who often create astonishing astroimages from this site, and who also help to manage it.
Astronomy will soon feature a story on ASV, its residents, activities, and incredible sky. Suffice it to say that Michael and I were so startled by the bright zodiacal light — which eventually reached all the way to the zenith — and the brilliance of numerous stars you normally don't notice in the winter Milky Way, that we were sold on the site before even looking through the telescope.
The 30-incher didn't disappoint, either. Bright objects made our jaws just drop. The Orion Nebula appeared etched in the sky, with phosphorescent detail glowing in greenish-white light, hues of pink visible throughout the brightest portions. Fainter, normally "challenging" objects were no match for this aperture and sky. The Witch-Head Nebula, IC 2118, was plain to see. The Horsehead Nebula was well defined, the horse shape clear to see with direct vision. NGC 2359, an emission nebula nicknamed Thor's Helmet, was a stunner: It just looked photographic, the bubble surrounding the central, Wolf-Rayet star replete with fibrous details. The Rosette Nebula looked like a short-exposure photograph. Many more objects were just amazing, almost beyond description.
Stay tuned for our full story, which I think you'll find enticing. Long live really dark skies!