When is a Crazy Telescope 60% Underground? World Class Solar Observatory in Sunspot #NewMexicoTrue #astronomy #science #solar

Sign for Mars in NSO model of Solar Syatem

Once you reach the inner solar system, you’re almost there

Where can you travel through the solar system in half an hour? Sunspot, New Mexico, where the American west’s largest scale model of the solar system (and third largest in the USA) runs along NM 6563 from Cloudcroft (a cute mountain tourist town) through the Lincoln National Forest to Sunspot.

I traveled the Scenic Byway recently from Pluto (yes, Plutophiles, Sunspot keeps Pluto in their model) to the National Solar Observatory. Scientists have studied the sun here since 1952, though newer instruments are replacing some of the site’s telescopes. The machine shop at Sunspot spends most of its time making equipment for telescopes in Hawaii, and data is probably delivered to scientists over the internet so they no longer hole-up in the on-site labs. Too bad for them! They miss the Lincoln Forest.

Sign showing NSO solar system model layout

You’ve reached the Sun

There’s a small museum and gift shop, and you’re allowed to walk around the interior of one of the strangest telescopes you’re likely to see.

Like an iceberg, only a part of the telescope’s bulk is visible above ground. The optical path starts at a heliostat on top of a 136-foot-tall (41 m) tower and continues 193 feet (59 m) more underground to the primary mirror. The lowest excavated point (the bottom of the sump) is 228 feet (69.5 m) below ground. Wikipedia

Model of Saturn in NSO's Sunspot Visitors' Center

More scale models in the Visitor’s Center

Sadly, there are no guided tours so be sure to stop by the Visitors’ Center and bring information with you. Have a great time!

Dunn Solar Telescope, Sunspot, NM

Yes, that’s a telescope

Just Saw Mercury #mercurytransit #space

sun porjected - sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

sun projected – sorry, but the dots of sunspots and Mercury too small to show up in the photo

Mercury is transiting the sun – right now! With our small telescope projecting onto a piece of white paper (never look directly at the sun!) I can see a sunspot group and a dot of shadow. Had to check twice over an hour to see that dot had moved relative to the sunspots – to be sure it’s Mercury. Cool.