As light pollution continues to spread throughout the world like a cancer, the quest for dark skies becomes more challenging. Luckily for me I live in one of the last dark sky bastions in the US: the Desert Southwest. However even in the town of Las Cruces, light pollution is a problem. To the south is what we call the “El Paso Nebula” and the ever growing city causes significant light glow to the West. The good news is we are not far from dark sites. Just a little under 2 hours to the Northeast lie the Sacramento Mountains, home of the famous enclave New Mexico Skies. We drove up there when I first moved out here and was discouraged to learn of the prohibitve costs of setting up a remote observatory. But soon after realized I could cut significant cost because I actually live here and don’t have to operate it remotely! Yay!
Since I do a lot of automated imaging I have become keenly aware of the myriad of problems that can come up just during automated sessions even with the best software and equipment available. Now tack onto that opening an actual observatory remotely, synching the dome to your scope, weather surveillance and equipment for emergency shut down of your facility, etc etc. Plus you lose out on the greatest thing about darks skies….actually being out there! Now NMS is perhaps the most well known development in the area but the ownership there charges a huge premium for everything, especially land. On the other side of the valley from them is another astronomy enclave called Stars End and it is here where we found a perfect 3 acre lot for the site of Stars End Observatory! The same lighting ordinances exist and several observatories have been build but there is no ownership to get in the way and charge multiples of market price.
To the North is the Lincoln National Forest and to the South is an unobstructed view (after appropriate site work obviously!) of the Southern Horizon to enable capturing all those precious southern Milky Way objects! Just to the North of the dead tree in the image which looks like an ancient obelisk of some kind (my kids don’t want me to take it down!) the land flattens out for a perfect sliding roof observatory site! The area is a prime dark site about 7200+ altitude. Nestled in the valley there is outstanding seeing. Bortle 2 skies (1 being the darkest). We are about halfway to the Summit which I found desirable as they do get high winds there and winter weather so we are somewhat protected.
The project is expected to take 2-3 years to completion. First will be clearing the lot and site work, followed by installation of housing and finally the observatory!