Enchanted Skies Star Party begins next week

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The Enchanted Skies Star Party, held in Socorro, offers a unique Southwestern astronomy experience with many exciting features. The event takes place from Oct. 10 to 13.

There is a decade-long tradition of presenting outstanding lectures by leading professional and amateur astronomers, observing at 10,600 feet, and a gathering Saturday night for an evening of great food, southwestern entertainment and dark-sky observing.

Dark sky observing, astronomy workshops, door prizes, lectures and insider tours of the Very Large Array and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory.

Nightly observing, lectures and camping will take place at the Etscorn Campus Observatory and at the official "Dark Sky Site," the Fort Craig National Historic Site, located only about 30 miles south of Socorro to the MRO.

There is a mandatory meeting for all those going up, held at Etscorn Campus Observatory. This meeting will discuss important safety concerns for mountain driving, high altitude health and the conditions expected that night. Oxygen is always on hand in case of altitude sickness, and a paramedic should be on hand also.

After the meeting, a convoy will depart from Etscorn Observatory at 5 p.m. for the observing location. There will be a convoy going back down to Socorro which departs at midnight

Bathrooms, snacks and hot drinks will be available. The temperatures are sure to be much colder than in Socorro, with wind, appropriate cold weather clothing is recommended.

Registered participants also have access to an insider's tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, located 45 miles West of Socorro. The VLA is currently undergoing a transformation into a new research instrument: the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA). Scheduled to be completed in 2012, the new state-of-the-art electronics and software will have completely transformed the VLA into a much more capable research tool with more than 10 times the VLA's current sensitivity. This transformation will ensure that the VLA/EVLA will remain one of the best radio telescopes in the word.

On Saturday, the last day of ESSP, a Southwestern style dinner is prepared and served at the Fort Craig National Historic Site, ESSP's official "Dark Sky Site." The cost is $25 and includes a second helping. Guests sit around an open camp fire while listening to some festive music.

After dinner, a special campfire lecture is given, often about Native American tales of the night sky while the sky fully darkens. Observing at Fort Craig often goes well into the mornings at this very dark site. Dinner will be served around 5 p.m. and the campfire lecture begins at 7 p.m.

Call or email Judy Stanley for registration information at jstanley@nrao.edu or 835-7243.

The High Altitude Astrophotography Contest, sponsored by Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO), New Horizons West and Enchanted Skies Star Party (ESSP), will take place on the Magdalena Ridge during the star party.

The grand prize winner's photograph will be featured in the Astronomy Magazine, receive one week of free stay at Rancho Hidalgo for two, $1,000 value and a $500 gift certificate to Starizona. Second and third place winners will receive $250 and $100 gift certificates to Starizona, respectively.

To enter the contest, the contestant must take the picture from Magdalena Ridge Observatory during the High Altitude Astrophotography Contest event and submit images by noon on Friday, Oct. 12. Digital images are to be submitted online at www.mro.nmt.edu/news/essp2012contest/. Each contestant is allowed one entry. Registration for the event is required. For detailed rules and registration information please visit www.mro.nmt.edu/news/essp 2012contest/.