Jun 122012

MRO Interferometer Project Scientist Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman will be giving a talk at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science as part of the Centennial Lecture Series. The talk titled “Alien Sunsets, Spotted Stars, and NESSI in New Mexico” will be about MRO’s NESSI instrument – the New Mexico Tech Extrasolar Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, a multi-object NIR spectrometer to be used at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory 2.4-meter telescope. She will also talk about the new and exciting science that will be done with the NESSI instrument.

For a full abstract and details about attending the lectures please visit the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Calendar of Events page.

May 242012

When Venus passes directly between earth and the sun, we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun.  Historically, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system. The next transit of Venus occurs June 5 or 6, 2012, depending on your location.  Observers in North America see it the evening of June 5. This will be the last transit of Venus to occur in your lifetime.

A transit of Venus occurs when Venus passes directly between the sun and earth.  This alignment is rare, coming in pairs that are eight years apart but separated by over a century.  The most recent transit of Venus was a thrilling sight in 2004.  After the June 2012 transit of Venus (the last one in your lifetime), the next such alignment occurs in 2117.

From transitofvenus.org

Everyone is welcome to join the Etscorn Observatory on the campus for free, safe, telescope viewing of the transit of Venus on Tuesday, June 5, beginning at 4 p.m. until sunset. No reservations required. Feel free to bring lawn chairs, a picnic dinner, water, sunscreen, and your sense of wonder!

The event is co-hosted by the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, the Etscorn Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Students, staff and professors will be viewing Venus as it transits the Sun and using Etscorn Observatory telescopes and other instruments. All are welcome to join.

To get to Etscorn Observatory, take Olive Lane (main road on campus) toCanyon Road. Turn on Canyon Road heading west toward the golf course. Make a right on Buck Wolfe Drive (first stop sign; just after the golf course) and veer left at the fork in the road. A map of directions is available here. Note: There are signs posted starting on the intersection of Olive Lane and Canyon Road.

May 152012

Annular solar eclipse on October 3, 2005. Image courtesy of Sancho Panza via Flickr.

Updated May 17, 2012

On Sunday, May 20, 2012 an annular eclipse of the sun will be visible from a narrow corridor that will traverse the Earth’s northern Hemisphere. The path of the Moon’s antumbral shadow will begin in eastern Asia and will cross the North Pacific Ocean where it will end in west Texas. Most of the state of New Mexico lies in the path of the eclipse providing a rare opportunity for the astronomy community, enthusiasts and non-entusiasts to witness an amazing event.

Path of the annular eclipse across the western United States

Here we list some of the best places in central New Mexico to view the eclipse from. Some include public gatherings while others are just remote areas where you can take your friends and family to experience this rare and beatiful event.

Also check out some of the listed references at the bottom page about the eclipse.

The event will occur on Sunday May 20th, starting at 6:20pm (MDT) and totaling at 7:34pm  (MDT) which will last for about 4 minutes.

Note that the event occurs close to sunset (8:06pm MDT) and when choosing a location make sure you have a clear view of the western horizon; for Socorro residents that means get out of M Mountain’s way!  Be sure to wear proper eye protection when viewing the eclipse.

Socorro/Magdalena Area

Albuquerque Area

  • University of New Mexico (UNM): UNM is hosting a free public event for the eclipse viewing at the UNM campus. They urge you to get there early!
  • Annular Eclipse Viewing at the Balloon Museum (organized event)
  • Bernalillo County Annular Solar Eclipse Event (organized event)
  • Annular Eclipse at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History (organized event)
  • Sandia Peak Tramway (no event; great for viewing)

Other Annular Eclipse Websites

May 142012

When it comes to looking at the sun, eclipsed or not, it can be dangerous to look at it directly. NEVER look at the sun directly, even with sunglasses. You can potentially damage your eyes, which could lead to temporary or permanent blindness. However there are plenty of ways to look at the sun at any given time, or during an eclipse event, such as the annular eclipse coming up on May 20, 2012. Here are a few and cost effective (and even fun) aways you can view the eclipse:

Purchase Filters

Solar/Eclipse Glasses: you can purchase these little glasses from many online store (Amazon.com and OPT Corp just to name a few). Prices range from $3 to $15.

Telescope Solar/H-alpha filters: If you own a small telescope, it is likely there is a solar/H-alpha filter that can be fitted for your scope. It is a nice way to view the eclipse. And if you are into astro-photography you could even take a few snapshots or videos of the eclipse (see example here). Solar filters for scopes can really range in price, so this method would probably be the most costly.

Binoculars: If using binoculars, make sure to use a proper solar filter just as you would for a telescope. Many online stores will carry such filters as well. Or wear your solar/eclipse glasses and then use the binoculars over them.

Note: any kind of filter that you use (glasses, H-alpha, etc), unless pointing at the sun, you will not be able to see anything through it. If you can see something other than the sun, they it is probably not safe for solar viewing!

Do It Yourself

Pinhole Projectors:  There are many ways to project the sun’s image via a pinhole, but the basic idea is to take 2 white pieces of stiff paper/cardboard. Using a pin, puncture a whole in one of the papers. Place the pinhole paper in the path of the sun and hold the other paper behind it to project the sun onto it. Adjust the distance between the papers until projected image is to a satisfactory size/focus. What you see on the projected paper is the actual image of the sun and not just a dot of light coming through it!

Variations of pinhole projectors: one can get very creative with pinhole projectors. Here are a few resources to give you some ideas:


  • NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! Looking directly at the sun can damage your eyes and/or lead to blindness. Using sunglasses or other filters not specifically designed for viewing the sun is NOT ENOUGH.
  • USE the solar glasses to look at the sun.
  • DO NOT view the sun through unfiltered binoculars or telescopes.
  • Please watch your children very carefully. Educate them about safe solar viewing.
  • For more information check out the NASA Eye Safety webpage
May 142012

On Saturday, May 12, 2012 New Mexico Tech held its 2012 Commencement ceremonies. Kelsey Miller and Stephen Jimenez were among the 300 hundred students that were awarded their Bachelor of Science degrees. During their undergraduate careers Miller and Jimenez made great contributions to the MRO Interferomter project development in optical instrumentation and mechanical design projects.

Jimenez joined MRO in 2009 as a  Mechanical Engineering major and worked on the Delay Line subsystem, design of anchoring systems for optical tables, and design of NESSI instrument components. Completing his degree requirements in December of 2011, Jimenez received a position as a Mechanical Engineer in the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is simultaneously working on his Master’s  degree.

Miller joined MRO in August of 2011 as an Astrophysics major to work on modeling an aberrated atmosphere in ZEMAX and analyzing the output in Matlab. Her results will help inform the design of the MRO continuous alignment system (BEASST) for Interferometer project. Miller will be joining the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences Ph.D. program this fall.