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Apache Point Observatory

New Mexico map
Click on the map for a tour of the observatory
Apache Point Observatory—located in Sunspot, New Mexico—is owned and operated by the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC), a not-for-profit consortium of seven research institutions. ARC's mission is to develop and operate astronomical research facilities for scientists affiliated with its member institutions and their collaborators. Principal projects at the Apache Point site are the 3.5-meter telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

Apache Point provides a superb location to conduct the sky survey. The site is surrounded by Lincoln National Forest in the Sacramento Mountains of south-central New Mexico. At 9,200 feet, the atmosphere contains little water vapor and few contaminants to degrade celestial images. This combination of clean air and distance from large cities makes the area's night sky is among the darkest in the United States. Such conditions contribute to optimum seeing for astronomers.

Support facilities at the observatory include an operations building that houses work areas for telescopes and instruments, as well as computer control rooms for each telescope. There is also a modest machine shop to handle small-scale projects and dormitory rooms to house overnight visitors.

Conducting SDSS required the construction of two telescopes and a survey support building, as well as modification of the existing operations buildings. With major support from the seven collaborating ARC institutions, APO staff and others, engineering and scientific collaborations have undertaken the myriad construction, installation, and commissioning tasks for the telescopes, supporting instruments and infrastructure.

Just 250 feet away from the SDSS telescope is the multi-purpose 3.5-meter telescope, which provides astronomers with data to develop and refine theories on how planets, stars, nebulae and other celestial objects form and evolve. This telescope boasts several innovative features including remote control, rapid instrument change capability, light-weight construction and unique sky-monitoring capabilities. The ability to operate remotely allows several astronomers to share the telescope on a given night, using whichever of the telescope's different instruments best suit their needs.

Apache Point also provides support for New Mexico State University's 1.0-meter telescope, operated for research and graduate instruction. Using design features from the 3.5-meter telescope, the smaller telescope is computer controlled, either from the site or from NMSU's campus.

Under agreement with ARC, New Mexico State University operates Apache Point Observatory. Observatory staff operate and maintain the telescopes, instruments and infrastructure for SDSS, including preparation of the plug plates for spectroscopic surveys.