So long, Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Hello, Rancho Hidalgo

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, February 15, 2010

A newly built observatory (left) building will hold a second telescope for Astronomy magazine use and an instrument for joint educational use between the Astronomical League and Vanderbilt University. The Astronomy Magazine Observatory is on the right. The two observatory buildings stand in front of Clyde Tombaugh’s 16-inch scope at Rancho Hidalgo near Animas, New Mexico. David J. Eicher photo
On Friday, my father John and I set off from the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which we had covered since Monday, and made the 3-hour drive down to Rancho Hidalgo near Animas, New Mexico, the site of the Astronomy Magazine Observatory. We visited extensively with Gene Turner and Loy Guzman, who operate the ranch, and saw Gene’s land where he plans a major development north of Hidalgo, at Granite Gap. This spectacular area will host an RV park where amateur astronomers can come and enjoy very dark skies for a weekend or longer getaway, without the expense of building a house. Many activities other than amateur astronomy are planned for the location, in addition to being, as Gene put it, “a perpetual star party.”

We also had a big surprise at Hidalgo, as Gene has built a second observatory building to house another 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) for use by the Astronomy magazine staff. The building stands just east of the original Astronomy Magazine Observatory and will share space with the Astronomical League and Vanderbilt University, who have a partnership to promote astronomy education through their scope. We visited extensively with, ate dinner with, and observed with Rocky Alvey, director of Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, as well as his sidekick, Mark Manner. Manner, a Nashville attorney, also is a highly skilled astroimager and helps with Vanderbilt’s astronomy outreach. This is a high-powered team who knows how to operate robotic scopes!

We also visited with Glyn Burke, an enthusiastic Canadian engineer who operates, and is setting up 10 SCTs at Hidalgo for robotic use by amateurs, many of whom have already taken advantage of the system. (See Glyn’s web site for more on how the whole system works.) After we had observed the odd galaxy/quasar pair NGC 4319/Markarian 205 in Draco, Glyn went inside and remotely used a scope in Manitoba to photograph the galaxy, producing a very nice image of it!

After a sumptuous dinner expertly prepared by Loy, we “geared up” and headed out for a 4-hour observing session. We looked at a long list of both bright and obscure deep-sky targets with the 30-inch scope, from the Orion Nebula to galaxy NGC 2403 to globular cluster M79 to Hind’s Variable Nebula in Taurus. Among our favorites for the night were the planetary NGC 2022 in Orion; open cluster NGC 7789 in Cassiopeia; galaxy NGC 1023 in Perseus; galaxy NGC 2903 in Leo; NGC 2024 in Orion; and the Perseus galaxy cluster, NGC 1275 and friends. I will produce an article in Astronomy based on tonight’s observing and the sessions we have over the next few nights. Senior Editor Rich Talcott, his wife Evelyn, and Associate Editor Liz Kruesi will arrive on Sunday — all three delayed by snowstorms.

It was a magnificent start to what will surely be an amazing weekend.

Visit our gallery of images of the Astronomy Magazine Observatory as well as from the 2010 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. And follow Dave's trip updates on our Twitter (@AstronomyMag) and Facebook pages.

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