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


New Mexico has Mountains #NewMexico #hiking #mountain #travel

Kate Rauner and Reynold among the Rocky Mountain Maples near Cloudcroft NMI’m taking a short hiking vacation near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, USA. Here are pictures from the Lincoln National Forest. Hurray for public lands.

A ridiculously difficult railroad line was built into these mountains in 1899 to move logs and tourists. Yes, the Anglo history of the American southwest included tourists almost from the beginning.

I lived on the plains at the foot of Colorado’s Front Range for many years and my back-east relatives thought that I lived in the mountains. Now I really do live in the mountains and family seems to think all of New Mexico is on a desert floor. America is a bigger place than most Americans realize.

Mexican Canyon tressel preserved in Lincoln National Forest

Trestle from the old railroad line preserved at the end of a lovely hiking trail. Last train ran in 1947.

Now, back to work – my new book about a colony on Saturn’s moon Titan is due out and I’ve got to get all those pesky typos corrected before it goes “live.” Read chapter 1 now and pre-order today so you don’t miss out. Thanks!



Astoundingly Beautiful American Southwest – Vacation Destination #travel #camp #Arizona #Utah #vacation

White House Trail Canyon de Chelly

White House Trail, popular with school groups

I’ve been camping in the canyons of Arizona and Utah. Most of the time we were out of internet and cell phone range. It’s a wonderful way to unplug. Since I owe you a post, perhaps you’ll indulge me and look at few of my vacation pictures.

White House ruins Canyon de Chelly

Ancient ruins

Canyon de Chelly is in America’s National Monument system, located entirely on Navajo land. It may not be as big as the Grand Canyon, but it is grand nonetheless. Excellent roads take you around the north and south rims to amazing overlooks. In most places you must hire a Navajo guide to hike down into the canyon, but one exception is the White House trail. This fantastic path clings to the side of the sheer canyon wall, ending at some well preserved ruins from an ancient culture. The hike was popular with school groups the day we were there.

Junior Rangers

Junior Rangers are sworn in

I was honored to watch a group of kids sworn in as Junior Rangers at Natural Bridges. We hiked down into the canyon there on a long trek between the largest bridge formations.

Valley of the Gods Utah

Camped beneath a massive rock formation, overlooking Valley of the Gods. Amost got bogged down in sand! But we made it.

In the nineteenth century, when the American government carved up the conquered western lands, after everyone had their first choice, the remainders were placed under the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). These lands are often overgrazed and under-regulated. They seldom offer anything special in the way of views, but are wonderful for those of us, like me, who want to travel cheaply. You can  camp for free on BLM land anywhere you want. There will be no rangers to answer questions, and roads may be impassible in rain or snow, which can be a challenge since you’re usually out of cell phone range. But in the  Valley of the Gods the BLM has a gem of fantastically carved rocks and mesas. The main gravel road is in good shape, though side roads are dirt tracks that can be dicey. But I’ve never had a better campsite.

A landscape needs two attributes to be named after God or the Devil. First, it must inspire awe. The stare-in-wonder sort of awe. But that’s not enough. It must also be indifferent, even hostile, to humans. The combination leaves me feeling  small and quiet. It would be presumptuous to try to fill such a space with myself. Instead I ache with the grandeur of our world.


Journey to Eclipse 2017 #eclipse #poem #astronomy #nature

More of my poetry at AmazonAnother Eclipse 2017 poem, inspired by my journey to the eclipse centerline in the Boise National Forest – hurray for America’s public lands. The path of totality was about 70 miles wide for this eclipse and crossed the continent. The difference between 99% and 100% totality is day and night. Even a sliver of the sun’s disk is too bright to look at naked-eye and loses the corona in the glare. Well worth the travel and deserving of a rhyme.

The car is packed, we could escape
A zombie apocalypse,
But on this trip instead we chase
A total solar eclipse.

Nebraska may be cloudy
So Idaho’s our bet.
We carry everything we need, for
The best view we can get.

From the mountains of New Mexico
Through ponderosa pine,
A partial isn’t good enough,
We seek the centerline.

On the plains of Arizona
Our camping gear’s a plus.
The centerline is farther north
And so push-on we must.

Keep the gas tank topped,
There could be short supplies
Cause people are converging
To gaze into the sky.

Blood red rocks of Utah,
The finest that we see,
We leave behind without a stop
To chase totality.

Squirrels chirp out their annoyance, as
In Idaho we climb,
To a forest meadow,
To the centerline.

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Eclipse camp

There’s time to lounge in camp
But First Contact will come soon
On the centerline
In the shadow of the Moon.

by Kate Rauner

Perfect conditions and a happy surprise – sunspots! It’s the bottom of the cycle so we weren’t expecting that. They don’t affect the eclipse – just add to viewing fun. Read more about the eclipse here.

Kate Rauner's poems on Amazon

Projection of Sun shortly after First Contact

August Eclipse Will Be Awesome – but astronauts get best view #eclipse2017 #science #astronomy

Eclipse viewed from space - NOAA/JapanI’ve got my trip to watch the eclipse planned (here’s wishing for clear skies!) But I’ll never have a view like astronauts do from space. Click on the image or here to view the video. The image I posted is just a screen shot. The time-lapse video is so cool. Check it out.