Artist's conception, Madgalena Ridge Observatory (Edie Steinhoff)
SOCORRO, N.M., August 7, 2002 -- Officials from an international university research consortium headed by New Mexico Tech, top-ranking officers of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, and a delegation of U.S. senators, representatives, and local dignitaries will soon convene on top of a 10,700-foot mountain range in south- central New Mexico to participate in an unveiling ceremony for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO).

The mountaintop ceremony, which will include a keynote address by U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a news media question-and-answer session, and the unveiling of a table-top model of the MRO, will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the MRO site atop the Magdalena Mountains.

The MRO is slated to be a premier, state-of-the-art astronomical research facility that will employ an array of optical/ infrared telescopes to produce extremely detailed images of the far reaches of the universe, beginning in 2007.

Once completed, the innovative optical and infrared telescope will sit along the main ridge of the Magdalena Mountains at an elevation of almost 10,700 feet, making it the fourth highest observatory site in the world.

By using optical interferometry, the MRO facility will electronically link its open arrangement of up to ten large telescopes to simulate the potential magnifying and resolving power of a single 400-meter telescope, much in the same way the nearby Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope links its 27 separate radio receivers to form one gigantic instrument.

One design being considered for MRO's array of telescopes is based on the VLA's Y-shaped arrangement of moveable telescopes, and spreads out the optical telescopes over an area larger than a football stadium.

Images of faraway planets, stars, and galaxies will be obtained by each of MRO's telescopes and processed in computers to form larger, more detailed single images of the celestial objects being observed.

In addition, computers will drive optical components at the MRO facility to constantly compensate and correct for optical disturbances caused by atmospheric turbulence--a cutting-edge technology known as adaptive optics.

"Magdalena Ridge Observatory is certain to become a tremendous resource, not only for scientists and researchers, but for students as well--from kindergarten to post-docs," says Van Romero, New Mexico Tech's vice president for research.

Federal funding for the research facility, which will eventually cost more than $45 million, has been secured through the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the lead government agency for the project; while the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory has supplied adaptive optics expertise and hardware for MRO.

The design, development, and operation of the observatory is under the auspices of a university research consortium, with New Mexico Tech as the lead institute. Additional members of the consortium include New Mexico State University, New Mexico Highlands University, and the University of Puerto Rico, as well as research partner Los Alamos National Laboratory.