New Mexico Observing Trip 2006

Jack Kramer

Imagine a site where all it takes to begin observing is to go out the back door and remove the cover from your scope. How about a site at an elevation of 6700 feet where you're contending with a lot less of the Earth's atmosphere. And consider that that same place has virtually no light pollution - the nearest town has a population of only about 1000 and is 25 miles away. That's Gran Quivira, a national park in New Mexico, where members of LCAS have been going for twenty-two years for really dark sky observing. This year's trip was somewhat unique in that we reserved the residence there for a two-week stretch (rather than the usual one-week) - that accommodated a variety of schedules among the participants and more nights of observing. Also unusual was the fact that weather conditions allowed observing on every single night! At the end, the ones who were still there left two days early because, yes, you can overdose on observing.

The members who went this year are pictured above, along with Martin Willes. The National Park Service has invited us back next year to help them celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Salinas National Monument, of which Gran Quivira is a part. We're now anticipating another trip there in the fall of 2009.

I'll let other folks offer their color commentary on the trip, but do want to mention that on the final evening of April 8, us stragglers had a bit of good luck. The moon occulted the Pleiades and it so happened that Gran Quivira was in just the right spot to witness a grazing occultation of the Pleiad star Asterope. With the one telescope still set up we watched as the star skimmed along the edge of the moon. Michael Purcell was the lucky one to witness the star momentarily blink out as it passed behind a highland area on the moon. That was a perfect ending to a great trip!

Editor's note: Thanks Jack for sharing some of your experiences on the trip, as well as the photo below of the very first Gran Quivira trip! The other participants have also submitted some of their reflections and observations on the Gran Quivira site, which will be shared in upcoming newsletters.

Published in the May 2008 issue of the NightTimes