Astronomy at South Mountain: Deep Space Imaging

By Lisa Herrmann, Education Manager

Astronomy at South Mountain: Why here?

Stargazing at South Mountain Environmental Education Center (SMEEC) is at an optimum level for the Phoenix Metro area due to the slight elevation above the city haze. The positioning of the mountain and buildings block ambient city lights, but still allow for unobstructed viewing of the ecliptic, our window into our galaxy as Earth rotates from our galactic edge.

Since our reopening in 2016, SMEEC has hosted Star Parties to connect guests to the mysteries of outer space using telescopes and the naked eye, with expert guidance from community astronomy partners. While traditional telescope optics can enhance what the human eye sees in the dark sky, there are limitations to our nighttime processing of colors, brightness, and even central vs peripheral vision. Even the highest dollar telescopes cannot alleviate these issues.

Beginning this week at SMEEC, a generous donation will enable guests to look beyond those limitations with remarkable deep space viewing equipment. Deep space viewing can be accomplished through technology that retrieves a series of photographs from optically enhanced lenses. Brilliant images can be projected onto a screen for people to see details of objects such as nebula, distant galaxies and interstellar clouds that might appear faintly in the best of telescopes.

How?

In order to make this impressive technology work, a concrete base was dug 18 inches deep to minimize vibrations. A highly stable pier was permanently installed that will be covered with a perpetual sundial when the scope is not mounted for use during our programs. The pier is surrounded by a 20 x 20 ft. brick paver square that further serves to minimize vibrations and provide a wonderful space for observations by guests.

Connecting with the Community

In addition to the deep space imaging itself, astronomy programs at SMEEC are connecting us with the local community and amateur astronomers throughout the Valley. A high school astronomy club at South Mountain High School, partnership with South Mountain Community College and group of dedicated community members are the foundation for this program. We are eager to expand and engage more stakeholders as we build exciting programs that connect people in South Phoenix with wonders of the night sky.