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Telescope Ready to Open Heavens

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
    Scientists hope to see "first light" this week with the first telescope at the new Magdalena Ridge Observatory in the mountains west of Socorro.
    To celebrate, a host of dignitaries will make the long drive up the 10,600-foot mountain Thursday for a formal dedication ceremony.
    The new observatory, funded with $50 million in special congressional appropriations through the Naval Research Laboratory, is a collaboration between the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
    The first telescope, with a mirror nearly 8 feet in diameter, will be able to track possible Earth-threatening asteroids, monitor satellites for the project's Defense Department sponsors, and do classical astrophysics research, said Eileen Ryan, one of the project's lead scientists.
    The project is being built on Magdalena Ridge, a mountaintop setting that scientists say is ideal for astronomical observations because of its thin, dry air.
    Ryan's 8-foot telescope is just an appetizer for what's to come at Magdalena Ridge. Concrete already has been poured for the main course— a relatively new type of telescope that combines the light collected by a number of separate lenses into one supersharp image. That is the technology that drew the Cambridge team and the Navy to the project.