Pair keep watch on N.M.'s skies - Albuquerque Journal

Pair keep watch on N.M.’s skies

An object from outside the solar system is moving in mysterious ways, leading some to think it’s artificial.

A decaying Russian satellite is showing signs of crashing down to Earth.

A NASA rocket launches from Spaceport America, about 100 miles away.

Keeping track of those objects are all a part of a night’s work for astronomers Eileen and Bill Ryan, who operate the 2.4-meter telescope at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory at an elevation of 10,600 feet on top of South Baldy in the Magdalena Mountains.

“We are one of the largest telescopes in NASA’s network,” Eileen Ryan said during a recent Enchanted Skies Star Party. “Every clear night, we’re on sky looking at newly discovered asteroids and comets. There are about 25 to 30 new objects discovered each night.”

A poster on the wall of the facility of the 1998 movie “Armageddon” starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck serves as a humorous reminder of one of the telescope’s missions.

“When objects get discovered, it’s a very short arc,” Bill Ryan added. “So their orbit is very uncertain. The point is, the Earth can be within the window of that immediate arc. That’s actually what we do here. We do the follow-up. We actually try to make that orbit more precise. And 99.9 percent of the time, we’ll eliminate it as a hazardous object.”

Bill Ryan will follow up on anywhere from 18 to 25 objects per night.

The 2.4-meter telescope has been in operation for more than 10 years.

“We are supported 80 percent by NASA’s Near Earth Observations program and 20 percent by the Air Force,” Eileen Ryan said. “Both of those projects have kept with us through the decade. And we’ve had steady funding which supports our operational cost, which comes to about a half million dollars a year.”

“NASA is very happy with the work they are doing,” said Van Romero, vice president for Academic Research and Economic Development at New Mexico Tech, which holds classes at the facility.

The Air Force will alert the MRO if there is a man-made object it wants to keep an eye on. Such was the case with the decaying Russian satellite.

One of the most curious objects the MRO observed was a few months ago.

“This summer, we found an object in the solar system,” Romero said. “When we started looking at its orbit, its orbit wasn’t in the solar system. It was coming from out of the plane of the solar system. So it got real interesting.

“A lot of people were trying to characterize it as the first man-detected object from outside of our solar system,” he said. “There was a short period of time, as the asteroid sort of got drug around by Jupiter’s gravity, it looked like it had reversed its direction and was coming back towards the sun, which would have meant somebody made some conscious decision to do that. There was an internet rumor that this thing was occupied and created a false orbit. Bill and Eileen were able to get some accurate tracks on it. It’s leaving our solar system. It’s probably gone by now.”

Home » From the newspaper » Pair keep watch on N.M.’s skies


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
The Small Glories coming to NM for concerts, workshops
Entertainment
The Canadian duo will play in ... The Canadian duo will play in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
2
What's happening in ABQ May 20-26: Blue corn pancakes, ...
Entertainment
Raindrop Albuquerque is hosting a fundraising ... Raindrop Albuquerque is hosting a fundraising event to assist the wildfire relief efforts through a brunch. What's happening in ABQ May 20-26
3
'Ice Age Footprints' features the monumental discovery at White ...
Entertainment
'Ice Age Footprints' will premiere at ... 'Ice Age Footprints' will premiere at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, on New Mexico PBS and stream on the PBS Video app
4
Lobo hoops: Sandia Prep alum to walk on, Pitino ...
College
Recruiting is never really done in ... Recruiting is never really done in college basketball, or so they say. But, even in an era of seemingly never-ending player transfers and signings, ...
5
MMA: Valdez, 27, isn't yet a pro, but he's ...
Boxing/MMA
It might have been the 2007 ... It might have been the 2007 fight between Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra, won by Serra in a monume ...
6
Prep notes: Longtime Cibola softball coach Victor to retire
Featured Sports
After 37 seasons, and three state ... After 37 seasons, and three state championships, and having built Cibola High School into one of the ...
7
Lobo baseball to wrap season with home series vs. ...
Baseball
The Lobos (20-31, 9-18 Mountain West) ... The Lobos (20-31, 9-18 Mountain West) begin their final series of the season Thursday at 6 p.m. at home vs. Air Force (25-26, 13-14). ...
8
Lobos fade in final round, finish 10th at NCAA ...
College
The University of New Mexico men's ... The University of New Mexico men's golf team shot 19-over par Wednesday and fell off the pace in the final round of the NCAA ...
9
Bees blank Isotopes; Bryant doubles in presumed last rehab ...
Featured Sports
'TOPES THURSDAY: At Salt Lake 6:35 ... 'TOPES THURSDAY: At Salt Lake 6:35 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM PROBABLES: Isotopes RHP Ryan Feltner (4-1, 4.08) vs. Bees LHP Jose Suarez (1-0, 5.40) ...