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NM Tech's Magdalena Ridge Observatory to Officially Open, Oct. 20, 2006

Magdalena Ridge Observatory

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 20, 2006 — New Mexico Tech’s “eye on the Universe” — a new $50 million optical observatory and astronomy research facility — will be officially opened on Thursday, October 26, with an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony atop the 10,800-foot-high Magdalena Mountains in south-central New Mexico.

[The Albuquerque Journal has a feature article on MRO, available to those who subscribe to the electronic Journal.

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, and Daniel H. López, president of New Mexico Tech, will be among the many dignitaries expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO), located about 30 miles west of the research university’s campus in Socorro.

Other local, state, and national government officials and public figures also are expected to attend the opening, along with administrators from New Mexico Tech and other universities and agencies that are collaborating with Tech as part of the MRO research consortium.

Though the official ceremony begins at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 26, organizers of the MRO opening remind those attending the event to gather before 11 a.m. at a meeting point at the Water Canyon Campgrounds in the Magdalena Mountains, in order to be loaded into provided shuttle vans for a ride up the steep U.S. Forest Service road leading to the MRO facility.

The federally funded MRO project is a state-of-the-art optical observatory that consists of two distinct instruments — a single 2.4-meter-diameter telescope and a moveable array of up to ten 1.4-meter-diameter telescopes linked together to form a single optical interferometer.

Thursday’s opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony will specifically commemorate the completion of the MRO 2.4-meter telescope.

Initial research being planned for the MRO 2.4-meter telescope will be more along the lines of “classical astronomy,” MRO scientists say, starting with a study of small bodies in our own Solar System, particularly near-Earth objects such as asteroids.

During the day, which is usually down time for optical telescopes, MRO’s big telescope will be used by the U.S. Department of Defense to track satellites and occasional missile tests conducted at White Sands Missile Range.

“Magdalena Ridge Observatory also has a strong component in its mission to support and enhance education and public outreach in New Mexico,” says Van Romero, vice president for research and economic development at New Mexico Tech.

“MRO is certain to become a tremendous resource, not only for astrophysicists, but for students as well — from kindergarten to post-docs,” adds Romero, who is also the principal investigator of the MRO project.

MRO’s linked array of smaller telescopes is scheduled to be fully operational sometime before the end of 2007.

Funding for the MRO project was made possible largely through the efforts of U.S. Senator Domenici and the late Congressman Joe Skeen, along with support from other members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation.

-NMT-