UNM-Taos Assembled Dobsonian Telescope
UNM-Taos Assembled Dobsonian Telescope

A nearly 5-million-dollar project is underway at UNM-Taos to bring an ‘out of this world’ experience to northern New Mexico.

The University says the largest public-use telescope in the southwest will soon be housed on campus at the Cielo Centro Observatory.

According to the UNM-Taos branch, visitors will see objects millions of light-years away through the telescope. 

"The big scope will catch 23,000 times more light than your unaided eye and over six times more light than our current biggest scope," said Colin Nicholls, an associate professor at UNM-Taos and chair of their science department.

As for the rest of the project, officials say an outdoor amphitheater, solar system nature trail, and education center will also be added near the observatory for college and K-12 grade students to learn.

"Astrotourism is becoming a huge area, and it promises a lot of growth potential, so we expect it not only to benefit educationally, as far as getting students into the STEM system for future careers in space technology, but also to draw a measurable amount of tourism to this area,” said George Rankin, the community liaison for the observatory project.

The amphitheater will be used for community-wide astronomy nights and learning presentations. Also, the nature trail will hold a connected solar system model and an art walk. Plans show it will be one large outdoor trail with space for different points along the site with exhibits.

"The project has so many facets of it, and addresses so many needs in the community, its scope is amazing and we have a great team at UNM-Taos to do all this,” said Rankin.

Now, they’re looking to develop a new program at the Taos branch, which will train students for careers in the space science industry.

UNM-Taos Observatory Plan
Courtesy: UNM-Taos

 “We are using the instrument to develop the program rather than the other way around,” Nicholls said. “I’m writing some grant applications to the NSF.”

While the telescope was a donation from Melinda King, whose family has a history of supporting arts and sciences in New Mexico, other parts of the project are being funded by several entities such as the state and community donations. 

"The General Obligation Bond, which will be on the ballot in November, includes all the funding for projects around the state, this project is a part of that,' Rankin said. "The money’s already been allocated, but it will be up to public vote to allow the funding to drop down and be used."

UNM-Taos is also requesting federal funding and seeking money from private donors. 

"The outreach is going to be tremendous; it’s going to service students from all over the state, the greater Four Corners region and beyond,” Rankin said.

Construction is slated to start this fall and is expected to wrap up as early as fall 2025.