Steven Aggas gave an interesting talk on astronomy including information on his 13-year project, the Apache-Sitgreaves Observatory, at the March 6th meeting of Tuesday Talks at the Rim Country Sr. Community Center. The observatory, located on the outskirts of Overgaard, opened to the general public in July 2017. At a 36” diameter, it is currently the largest viewing telescope open to the public in Arizona – right here in little ole’ Heber-Overgaard.
Aggas is the staff astronomer, which includes a background in engineering, who began his journey as many do, as an amateur. An amateur no longer, he owns 19 patents, has been published in Astronomy Tech Today, had an asteroid named after him in 2012 for his contributions to astronomy to name a few of his accomplishments. He’s excited to share his observatory and the wonders of the universe with others.
The observatory is owned by Apache-Sitgreaves Research Center, Inc., (ASRCI) an independent research facility of which Aggas is the Director. Over 13 years ago while searching for a location, Aggas took into account the fact that the Heber-Overgaard area is considered to have “World Class Skies”. There are several reasons for this, with one being the 6800’ elevation on top of the Mogollon Rim Escarpment. There are two other large telescopes on the Rim—Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and the Discovery Telescope in Happy Jack.
A couple other reasons for the “World Class Skies” is the low rainfall and the distance away from urban areas. We’re in the middle of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and near a couple Native American Reservations, both which tend to limit growth.
“The astronomy industry contributes $250 million to the Arizona economy,” Aggas told the group. As a small community that already caters to tourism, Apache-Sitgreaves Observatory is an exciting develop for our local economy.
ASRCI is currently in Phase I with plans for Phase II already on the drawing board. To raise their funds, they sell tickets for viewings for up to 16 people for a 2.5-3 hour viewing program and entry level astronomy tools and supplies.
There are three telescopes now which are used for different sightings. The smallest is 2.5” (60 mm refractor) through which you’d look at one full moon; next is the 8” diameter Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope bolted to the side of the 36-inch telescope through which you’d look at four moons; then the BIG Meter-Class 36” (.914 meters) through which you’ll look at galaxies.
“The comment we hear most when looking through the 36” telescope is ‘WOW!’” Aggas told us. Even those who are used to astronomy are reportedly amazed when looking through the telescope into our dark skies. He reported there are 200 galaxies bright enough to see colors. If you purchase an item, including a ticket, you’ll become a member of the Friends of The Observatory and your name will be included in the Phase II building! Tickets and astronomy items are available for purchase on their website apache-sitgreaves.org.
Classes available include:
- Night Sky Observing – You can see nebula dust and it’s dark enough that the Milky Way actually casts a shadow!
- Couple’s Night/Night Sky Photography Workshop – (Note: no telescopes are used in this workshop) A romantic night under the stars learning about cameras and astronomy. Everything is provided for you; Camera, Wide-Field Lens, Tripod, World-Class Dark Skies, and, advice to take your very own beautiful star-filled images. Learn the constellations, how to photograph the Milky Way, capture star trails, long exposures, and light painting.
- Daytime Solar Viewing and Listening – See the Sun’s surface safely, view the Solar Spectrum, and hear the Sun on the decametric radio telescope. Learn about the different types of light, the chromosphere, sun spots and more.
- Citizen Scientist Activity/Meteor Shower Viewing and Analysis – Come for the fun of it or join in on the science of documenting the meteors you have seen. Throughout the year there are spectacular displays of “shooting stars” or meteors, streaking across the sky. On select nights they set up for a late-night meteor viewing adventure, clear or cloudy. There are discussions on astronomy, the constellations, Earth’s orbit and how it intersects with debris left by comets which burn up in our atmosphere. If you do want to participate in the Citizen Scientist activity, all materials will be provided.
One thing Aggas stressed is when you attend an event, don’t follow your GPS’ directions to get there as they will lead you astray. Instead use the maps available on apache-sitgreaves.org.
Look for Mr. Aggas at the Independence Day Festival in Tall Timbers park as he’ll be giving demonstrations on solar viewing.
The last thing he discussed at the meeting is the importance of maintaining our dark skies, not only for Heber-Overgaard, but for the entire state of Arizona. Arizona used to be considered a Dark Sky Sanctuary, but no longer because of the light pollution from the large urban populations. Some Arizona cities are changing their light ordinances and are considered Dark Sky Cities or Communities. A few that have achieved this status are Prescott, Sedona and recently Fountain Hills.
Thanks to Steven Aggas for his informative presentation and for his work in our community. Thank you Rim Country Sr. Community Center and Realtors Teressa and Dee McCluskey for sponsoring Tuesday Talks.