On the road: Enchanted Skies Star Party, day 3

Posted by David Eicher
on Saturday, September 27, 2008

The day after we had a wonderful night of observing at El Camino Real, the Enchanted Skies Star Party slowed down a bit. Attendees spread out doing a variety of things during the day.Kelly blue-green Smithsonite

Editor's note: View the photo album, Enchanted Skies Star party 2008, to see images from Dave's time in and around Socorro.

I checked out the New Mexico Tech Mineral Museum on the campus, with its spectacular collection of minerals. Thursday, I wrote about the value of studying minerals for astronomers, not only for understanding planetary geology in our solar system, but also to satisfy the wonder and curiosity about how elements could combine into very similar minerals on other worlds scattered throughout the cosmos. The New Mexico Tech collection on display is fantastic, consisting of several thousand specimens, concentrating on New Mexico minerals, but also including showy specimens from all localities.

Afterward, I journeyed westward to the little town of Magdalena, turned south into the mountains, and spent a long time wandering around the Kelly Mine, a famous and historic western mine ruin. Defunct since 1972, the mine had its heyday in the late nineteenth century but was booming even during the Civil War days as a silver, gold, lead, and copper. Much later on, a fantastic find of smithsonite occurred here, a principal source of zinc. Smithsonite is zinc carbonate and was named for — you guessed it  — James Smithson, whose fortune commenced the Smithsonian Institution. This mineral occurs in many places around the world but the greatest came from the Kelly Mine, as it is famous as a collector mineral for its beautiful, shimmery, blue-green color.

I didn’t find a single piece of smithsonite rooting around the mine’s dumps, but I headed back to Socorro to prepare for the evening anyhow. At 7 p.m. I presented the keynote talk of the star party, “30 Years of Amateur Astronomy,” to a nice group of amateur astronomers and students in an auditorium on the New Mexico Tech campus. Despite going head-to-head with John McCain, Barack Obama, and a Buddy Holly tribute band a couple doors down, the crowd offered some enthusiastic questions. (Well, maybe it was because I didn’t ask anyone for $700 billion.) I spoke about the last generation in amateur astronomy, how I got interested in the subject as a teenager, the founding of my little magazine Deep Sky, what’s going on with Astronomy magazine — including a behind-the-scenes look at the magazine’s talented staff — and what trends are happening now in the hobby. It was an enjoyable time.

Afterward, observing took place at the campus observatory only briefly, as alas, the sky clouded up. We’ll hope for better luck on Saturday night!

Previous posts:
VLA tour day
Day 1

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