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Route 60 Astronomy Corridor Proposal

The industrialized world suffers from the dwindling availability of truly dark skies in dry and high altitude locations. This precious resource for astronomy can be found in only a few places in the continental United States. New Mexico has the blessing of being counted among one of the last places in the southwest, and indeed in the continent, that is still free from light pollution. It is currently relatively well served by roads.

The Route 60 Corridor, proposed in this document suggests the creation of an economic development and science support region along this portion of New Mexico territory.

Currently within the Route 60 Corridor we find The Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO) and the Magdalena Ridge Interferometer both managed through New Mexico Tech, The Very Large Array and a Very Long Baseline Array antenna, (VLA/VLBI), both managed by the National Radio Observatory, and at least eight private observatories with research grade instrumentation.

Three of these facilities are current commercial ventures and aspire to participation in the educational aspect of astronomy. The Pie Town area is the last high, dry and dark location accessible to the ordinary citizen and entrepreneur. Astronomy business in southern New Mexico is dependent on access to broadband internet to thrive.

The availability of better communications and transportation infrastructure would stimulate the region economically and provide remotely operated facilities, astro tourism infrastructure and private and public educational collaborations. Broadband would create a global marketplace for astronomy edicated establishments in rural and underserved Catron County.

We are proposing the establishment of a science support corridor that will preserve and extend the radio quiet zone that already exists, establish and protect a light pollution free zone for the benefit of current and future astronomical based organizations, both private and publicly funded for the economic and educational benefit of the people of New Mexico.

This project calls for:

1- Establishing a state sponsored “astronomy preserve” that would protect the corridor from the encroaching light and radio pollution that has eroded the scientific value of many other locations around the country. Examples of this erosion include Mt. Palomar and Mt Wilson in California as well as Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. All have seen their scientific relevance degraded or destroyed by uncontrolled increase in light and radio pollution. We wish to avoid this in New Mexico.

2- Establishing a fiber optic network that would make possible the economic, scientific, and educational exploitation of the region’s atmospheric qualities. This preserve is expected to benefit both private and public enterprises and extend the region’s role in astronomy science and pedagogy to world recognition. We wish to protect and empower current and future generations of astronomers.

3- Pave the road to existing high altitude facilities such as Magdalena Ridge Observatory and establish dedicated public astronomical viewing areas there and perhaps at a second high altitude location, destined for general use of private and public entities.

The authors of this document petition the Round House and Elected Leaders of New Mexico to include this project in their economic and community development plans and funds allocation. This document originates from the community of astronomy dedicated citizens around Pie Town and the Route 60 corridor in general.

We wish to enter into planning and negotiation discussions with relevant state and academic officials to promote the Route 60 Astronomy Preserve. We are aware that this requires not only compliance with existing economic development law but also the writing and passage of general dark and quiet sky legislation at the state and county level.

Private Economic Development Model.

Private and public astronomy worldwide has benefited greatly from the advancement of telescope and robotic technology. Currently it is possible to access and manipulate telescopes over the internet, and to create fully automated telescope systems. This type of “remote astronomy” location is here now in Pie Town. In 2015 the enabling technology for this is accessible to serious amateur astronomers and modest educational facilities around the world. These facilities can service the private and public sectors alike by hosting remote telescopes for clients worldwide or by renting out time on private telescopes for use by educational or commercial institutions around the world.

The scarcity of good sky and the availability of broadband create a favorable environment for the Pie Town area to grow. For institutions and private users around the world it is convenient to access a telescope remotely in the night side of the planet, during day local hours. Broadband would make this possible.

The route 60 Corridor has the geographic elevation, the atmospheric dryness, transparency, steadiness and lack of light pollution that make up a unique and highly valuable resource. The corridor is lacking the proper broadband access to exploit this reality and attract further private, institutional and public investment to the region.

There are seven private astronomy facilities around Pie Town. These have been established independently from one another. All were attracted to the region because of its unique and favorable conditions for astronomy. Some of these facilities are currently engaged in “for profit” activities. Others aspire to that status and yet others are entirely non-commercial facilities.

SkyPi Remote Observatory

SkyPi Remote Observatory (SkyPi) is located in the Top of the World subdivision. It is currently the leader in the corridor for commercial development of astronomy. SkyPi aspires to commercial success similar to that achieved by New Mexico Skies in Sunspot, New Mexico. This private observatory currently hosts 40 astronomical instruments and operates with the assistance of three full time technicians and two very active owner operators. SkyPi currently hosts five astronomical instruments and is already building facilities for two more clients. It is relevant to convey that New Mexico Skies has seen the need to buy-up all available bandwidth, as it has become unclaimed. SkyPi also aspires to provide service to educational institutions by providing cost effective facilities or renting out of telescope time. Currently they are negotiating with Western Ontario University for the installation of a planetary research array. SkyPi is owned and operated by one couple with two part time technicians to support their expanding operation.

Top of the World

Top of the World, itself going venture, aspires to establish a telescope hosting facility of its own. It is already a thriving real-estate development and has included dark skies in its covenants to promote and insure profitable access to this emerging market. Top of the World has dedicated 30 acres of its holdings to astronomical use and has plans to establish nine permanent pads for telescopes as well as an annual star party to promote astro-tourism. There are four private observatories in Top of the World Subdivision including SkyPi.

Gama Cygni Observatory

Gama Cygni Observatory is located in the Elk Ridge sub division. It aspires to establish itself as a not for profit astronomical research facility and astronomical retreat. A combined research and astronomical bed and breakfast for astronomers. This facility is currently funded but has not yet commenced building its infrastructure. It will be patterned after other successful establishments for astronomy: Sky Watcher’s Inn located in Benson, Arizona and Star Hill Inn near Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of these facilities were put out of business by encroaching light pollution.

Sky Rancher Inn

Sky Rancher is a modest facility that aspires to serving the educational and astro-tourism community by providing large aperture visual experience of the night sky.

Other Private Observatories

There are currently four other private observatories in the vicinity of Pie Town. We expect two additional observatories to establish annually.

Fiber optics for the Corridor: CAT+ION

To permit the thriving of currently operating observatories and to promote the development of the corridor as a whole with remote astronomy facilities and local technical support we propose the creation of a fiber optic network through the engineering offices of Green Lion, Reserve New Mexico. Green Lion is a going telecommunications service and consulting firm. Currently Green Lion is our technical consultant.

CAT+ION (Catron Independent Observatory Network)

A positive ION for STEM and economic advancement in Catron County.

Vision

CAT+ION will be a model of how environment and technology can cooperatively support small rural communities while enhancing scientific pursuits and discoveries of astronomers worldwide. SkyPi is pioneering a distributed observatory model which leverages a pristine natural environment for observation integrated with a community committed to protecting their dark sky. CAT+ION will connect those distributed observatories with astronomers around the world through a network dedicated to low-latency streaming of video and photographic images of our heavens. In essence, SkyPi’s vision with CAT+ION broadband connectivity to the internet will allow those in metropolitan areas to share a slice of SkyPi and see their Milky Way remotely. CAT+ION will be a rural broadband network with connectivity to internet corridors dedicated to high resolution data transport supporting the successful achievement of astronomical pursuits.

Project Scope

High definition video transport to enhance and support astronomical pursuits requires a network dedicated to that mission. Traditional local exchange carriers whose mission is more diverse than serving one transport function have limitations but have resources and routes which can serve CAT+ION’s objectives. The project cost and operational expenses will be dependent on the cooperation between local phone and electrical utilities in accomplishing the needed connectivity between Pie Town and the internet hub in Socorro, initially. CAT+ION will consist of an architecture which accomplishes Fiber-to-the-Observatory (FTTO) the traditional “last mile” connectivity with manageable connectivity and future growth capacity. Traditional long-haul backbone architecture, cabling and technology will be chosen to enhance long term capacity. The ability to expand broadband connectivity in the region to schools, utilities, commercial or other users who may require connectivity beyond traditional DSL. Green Lion would create CAT+ION’s sustainable network architecture and engineering estimates for the projects initial capital expenditures and projections of operational cost over an initial five year projection as SkyPi’s senior technical project consultant. Green Lion through would also lead efforts to coordinate and cooperate with local telecommunication service providers and electrical utilities to establish routes and relationships with the aim of creating beneficial relationships which enhance CAT+ION’s goals.

Project Technical Lead

Green Lion LLC is a 2 year technical service and sales organization located in a traditionally underserved wilderness community within Catron County. We bring 30 years of experience as a senior communications engineer and network architect to the region with certifications in advanced optical networks with a specialty in deterministic low-latency transport. Led by Reese Janca and Kaarin Goncz who combine industry and university work experience to provide services from consulting through system integration, installation and maintenance local to the regions internal and external commercial, government and utility organizations.

 

Catron County Astronomy Association

Ignacio Cisneros

John Evelan

Janet Evelan

Darrel Moon

Michael Robinson

Tom Bauman

Tom Csurilla

and others