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