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“You can see the rings!” a boy said Saturday night, Nov. 13, as he viewed the planet Saturn through a telescope set up on Plaza de Las Cruces by the Astronomical Society of Las Cruces (ASLC).
Society members conduct public telescope viewings in free monthly gatherings, either in Las Cruces or at Leasburg Dam State Park, said ASLC President Ed Montes, who retired to Las Cruces in 2013 and is a popular actor in local theater. He’s been stargazing most of his life, since first looking at a comet with his great-grandmother in Texas decades ago.
ASLC is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021, Montes said. It was founded by a group that included astronomer Clyde Tombaugh (1906-97), the discoverer of Pluto, and a beloved Las Cruces icon.
On Nov. 13, ASLC members had telescopes of various diameters set up to view Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and the moon. They invited anyone walking by on the plaza or walking or driving along Main Street to take a look.
Through a partnership with New Mexico State University and the State Parks Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, ASLC maintains a 16-inch telescope at its observatory at Leesburg Dam, less than a 30-minute drive north of Las Cruces. The telescope is on permanent loan from the NMSU Astronomy Department, which donated it to ASLC in 2007, Montes said.
Las Cruces and Leesburg Dam are about the same altitude, Montes said, but the state park has much less light pollution than the city.
As part of its partnership agreement, the society reaches out to include as many members of the public as possible in viewing stars, planets, the Milky Way, nebula, asteroids and other astrological phenomena.
The telescopes on Plaza de Las Cruces offered amazing views of the two gas giants, Jupiter (nearly 460 million miles from earth) and Saturn (almost a billion miles from Earth), as well as much closer neighbors Venus (a little more than 50 million miles away) and Earth’s own moon (almost 239,000 miles from earth). Photos through telescopes were even possible.
ASLC has monthly public viewings, which begin about sunset.
The dates of viewings in Las Cruces are Saturdays, Dec. 11, 2021; and in 2022: Jan. 8, Feb. 12, March 12 and April 9; and at Leesburg Dam State Park, Saturdays, Nov. 27, 2021; and in 2022: Jan. 29, Feb. 26, March 26 and April 23.
You can also request a star party.
Visit https://aslc-nm.org/ for more information and for the locations of and directions to upcoming viewings. The website also shows the current month’s sky map and some very interesting science, including an astronomical glossary.