Monday, July 8, 2013

Sunspot, New Mexico: National Solar Observatory


National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


The word on the mountain is that the observatory operation in Sunspot, New Mexico, will have new owners soon. What this might mean for future access to the site, or even what will be happening here - don't know. But if Sunspot's been on your list of places to visit for awhile, now's the time to do it.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


Regardless of whether or not there'll be new owners, many of the scientists will decamp to Colorado or to the National Solar Observatory's new solar observatory in Hawaii:
NSO currently has offices and ground-based observing facilities at Kitt Peak, Ariz., and Sacramento Peak, N.M., which will cease operations when the new Advanced Technology Solar Telescope is completed.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico





I visited the observatory recently, and made the once-daily tour at 2:00 p.m. Pleasant tour albeit a little rushed, as a Scout group was scheduled afterward.

















The drive up to Sunspot is lovely, cutting through the Lincoln National Forest and private lands, with numerous opportunities to stop at a trail head for hiking, a place for a picnic lunch at the restorative Upper Karr Canyon Recreation Area, and a kicking view of the Tularosa Basin at the Haynes Canyon Vista lookout.

Haynes Canyon Vista, en route to Sunspot, on State Road 6563, New Mexico


I even discovered the terminus for the mysterious Binoculars 58!

Sunspot has its own post office.


National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


 You can tell that nerds live here because Sunspot's street names are so .... practical.


National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


 There is also a Trailer Drive, on which there are trailers.


And, as with the Very Large Array, I loved the irony of old-school technology in a field that is so literally out there scientifically.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


Inside the main observatory, I wondered about the interior design - the warm color on the walls and the giant globed lights. It wasn't til I processed my photos that I had an aha moment - the large globe lights are like the sun.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


There was an intro video that preceded the tour. Original scientists atop the mountain shortly after the end of WWII, when denied money for a real observatory, repurposed a grain silo, ordered from Sears, as a work-around. This historic building is still onsite.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico


For now, there are about 50 people who live for all or part of the year up in Sunspot, but evidently a number will move out in the fall to Colorado as the operations from New Mexico to Colorado or Hawaii transition.


National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico

 
Our tour guide, a graduate student living at Sunspot this summer, noted that bears are a common sight around their residences, and one scientiest encountered a mountain lion while walking between the visitor center and one of the observatories.

National Solar Observatory, Sunspot, Sacramento Peak, New Mexico

   
As I said, don't put off a tour to the observatory at Sunspot for too long - it may not be there a year from now.


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