When it comes to spectacular free resources in Albuquerque, the University of New Mexico Campus Observatory has to be at the top of the list. Run as an educational outreach program through the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the observatory provides free observing every Friday night during the fall and spring semesters if the weather is clear (except for during fall and spring breaks).
The observatory is open to the public and to UNM students. Located on Yale just a bit north of Lomas, it's easy to spot with its large white dome. Inside the dome is a 14-inch Meade telescope that points to galaxies, nebulae and other objects of interest that happen to be up in the night sky on the evening of viewing.
Getting there is easy, and parking is as well. Parking is free after hours at the M lot adjacent to the Observatory building. To find out if the observatory is open, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy information hotline. You'll get information on whether the dome will be open, or check the website for updated information on whether the observatory will be open that night, or closed. Sometimes the observatory doesn't open for reasons related to winds and the weather.
What to Expect
The observatory has a core group of volunteers who are on hand to answer questions and provide a tour of the night sky. Amateur astronomers from the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) have their own personal telescopes set up outside the observatory dome, and they often interpret the night sky inside the observatory. UNM Physics and Astronomy students and graduate students are often on hand running telescopes. Visitors can look through homemade telescopes, large Dobsonians, and smaller, computerized telescopes. Each type provides a view of a celestial object such as the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and the stars. The volunteers are there to answer questions and talk about the objects seen through the telescopes. They are knowledgeable and their interest can be infectious. Sometimes UNM professors are on hand to explain what's up in the night sky.
The observatory opens before dusk, from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. during MST and 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. during MDT.
If the door to the Observatory courtyard is open, the dome will be open as well. There will be red lights on inside that help visitors' eyes adapt to the dark. It's better to see the night sky from darkness.
There are a few stairs to climb to get up to the 14-inch Meade telescope. For those who can't climb stairs, there are telescopes outside the dome, and usually, at least one of them is trained on the object being observed from within the dome.
Since the dome is for all intents and purposes outdoors, dress according to the weather.
If you'd like to see what might be up in the sky the night you're visiting, check out Sky and Telescope's Sky Chart to see what you might observe.
If you love astronomy, you love the natural world. Be sure to visit Albuquerque's Open Space and the Rio Grande Nature Center.