Etscorn Campus Observatory

The Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory, dedicated 25 April 1993, is on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, NM. The observatory is one of the sites of the annual Enchanted Skies Star Party (ESSP). In addition, many public and private star parties are held there throughout the year.

The observatory is surrounded by earth berms and is strategically located to avoid as much light pollution as possible from campus and town. Several telescopes are available for use at the observatory, the most noteworthy ones including a 20-inch Dobsonian inside a 15-foot dome, both on loan from club member Ken Mason, and a Celestron 14 on a Paramount GT-1100 mount, on loan from the NMT Physics Department. The building itself is operated and maintained by the NMT Astronomy Club. The Club is in a joint research agreement with the NMT Physics Department.

The main building, apart from the dome, measures 12 × 24 ft., and consists of two rooms. The front door opens to an office/workshop space, and then a door opens from there to the observing room, which houses the C-14. An unusual feature of the observatory is its automated roll-off roof, which uses a garage-door mechanism to open and close for observing. Behind the main building, there is a raised deck, where a 6-inch Shiefspiegler is kept under a rotating dome. To the side, there is a storage shed which contains an 8-inch Newtonian and a 13-inch Dobsonian. Building plans are available if you are interested in constructing a similar facility.

Currently the Etscorn Observatory is growing. A gallery has been set up to show the construction of a brand new facility at the observatory. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education we are building a 'Resource' building to provide educational outreach to schools. As you can see, it is a fairly large building that will surround the 16 ft. dome. The dome itself will be raised so that it can be entered through standard doors. The building includes a large 'resource' room, kitchen, bathroom, control room (for the telescope in the 16 ft. dome) and a storage area/shop.

Construction began during the week of January 17th and if all goes well, may be completed by early June. Early construction photos show activity associated with installation of all plumbing and other conduits that will be under the building slab. Trenching also was needed for electrical, fiber optic cable and phone cables. The large 8 inch diameter pipe is a drain that will carry water away from the building runoff and that which collects inside the berm. 'Lake Etscorn' will be a thing of the past!

The digging and trenching was done very slowly and carefully in order to avoid damage to existing buried conduits and cables. This was pretty tricky and we are happy to report that none of the old lines were damaged! Tech workers are building the new facility and it is a tribute to their skill and care that the first stages were completed without incident.

If you visit the observatory in the near future keep in mind that it is a construction zone. As such, there are many dangers which are even worse in the dark! Please do not go beyond any barriers put up to mark the construction area. Keep watching this page as we will provide updates as construction progresses.

Jon Spargo,

New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club