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New Mexico: Observatory near Socorro to host stargazing party

Go deep into dark space near Socorro, N.M., for a two-day stargazing party at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory

Mark your calendar for a stargazing party April 17 and 18 at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico.

The observatory is about 80 miles south of Albuquerque near Socorro in the Magdalena Mountains of Cibola National Forest. Its remoteness makes it ideal for the Enchanted Skies Star Party.

Astronomers from the observatory, the nearby Very Large Array (the world's largest radio telescope with 27 antennas in a Y shape), and the Magdalena Astronomical Society and others will lead presentations and guided tours during the event.

Visitors can camp and go on daytime hikes as well as nighttime forays to the darker areas of the national forest. The point, of course, is to get a good, clear view of the sky, so bring your telescope (some will be available too) and camera to one of the darkest places in the United States.

Tickets cost $10 a day or $15 for two days for adults. Children 17 and younger accompanied by a paying adult get in free.

Spaces are still available, but organizers say they will go fast. Go to the Enchanted Skies Star Party registration page; note you must pay by Paypal, check or cash.

Each year the International Dark-Sky Assn. certifies places that meet their criteria for skies far from city lights and light pollution. Good places to stargaze in the West include:

-- Death Valley National Park in California

-- Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico

-- Oracle State Park in Arizona and

-- Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.

Certified dark-sky cities include Borrego Springs, Calif., on the edge of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Flagstaff and Sedona in Arizona.

Info: Enchanted Skies Star Party at Magdalena Ridge Observatory in Magdalena, N.M.; International Dark-Sky Assn.

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