Star Party attendees

Amateur astronomers wait for nightfall at their campsite at ESSP’s Star Village.

The darker the sky, the brighter the stars. That’s what over 120 stargazers from across the country – and around the world – found when they gathered in Magdalena for the 27th Annual Enchanted Skies Star Party. Clear night skies and mild weather helped to make the five-day event one of the most successful in recent years, say organizers.

Judy Stanley has been involved with the Star Party for several years and points out that it hadn’t had a permanent home until five years ago.

“It moved around. It was held at various locales, including the Pound Ranch, El Camino Real International Heritage Center, Fort Craig, and at the Etscorn Observatory,” Stanley said. “Attendance was falling, and thanks to a collaboration with the Magdalena Chamber of Commerce and Cibola National Forest, it has been in the same location.”

That location has been dubbed Star Village.

Located at an elevation of 6,485 feet, Magdalena is a genuine dark sky site with a regular recording of 21.6-21.8 magnitudes per square arc-second. Sky and Scope magazine says it arguably has one of the darkest sites in the continental U.S., as well as one of the driest.

Star Village

Star Village, east of Magdalena.

Judy Stanley said astronomers call it the ‘seeing’ - the brightness of the night sky.

“The ‘seeing’ is really good,” she said.

“This year, we had good observing weather through the whole darn thing. No one has better opportunities for stargazing than we do in New Mexico,” said astronomer John Briggs, who founded the Astronomical Lyceum. “We’re finding that people are drawn to Magdalena because of our dark skies.”

Night viewing over the week took place at “Star Village” on Cibola National Forest land, just a few miles west of the village. Not only that, but registered attendees were able to enjoy a night of observing atop Socorro County’s South Baldy, part of the Magdalena Ridge and home to the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and Interferometer. At an elevation of 10,600 feet, it is a prime astrophotography and observing location.

While the event was geared towards serious observers and well attended by astronomy club members, such as the Albuquerque Astronomical Society, it offered something for every level of observer.

“Astronomy is the big question, the big picture,” Stanley said. “And people who are curious about their environment lean over to astronomy. They want to observe the night sky and find out what’s going in the heads of these astronomers.

“Because of the wealth of astronomers here and the Magdalena Astronomy Club, we were able to get some pretty important people from the international community to come and speak,” she said. “Lectures were given at the Astronomical Lyceum on Main Street and onsite at Star Village there on the Forest Service land.”

The five day event consisted of dark skies viewing at the top of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory with private tours of the 2.4 meter telescope and the Interferometer; a behind the scenes tour of the NRAO/Vary Large Array; a solar tour through Magdalena; tours of John Briggs’ Lyceum-Antique Telescope Museum; and a series of lectures at the Lyceum.

“It’s the best night sky I’ve ever observed,” said one attendee.

Plans are already being made for next year’s Enchanted Skies Star Party the week of October 13 through October 18, 2020.

For those who missed this year’s Enchanted Skies Star Party, Etscorn Observatory at New Mexico Tech is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month for Guided Night Sky Stargazing, as well as at many other times during the year. Telescopes include a 20-inch Dobsonian inside a 15-foot dome and a Celestron 14 on a Paramount GT-1100 mount. Built in 1993, the observatory is managed by the New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club and is surrounded by earth berms to minimize light pollution from the campus and town.