For many in Las Cruces, “A” Mountain is a city landmark that can be seen from almost anywhere in town. However, the structures that sit atop the mountain that peer beyond our planet’s atmosphere, may not be quite as well known.
Tortugas Mountain Observatory (TMO) is located on Tortugas Mountain, also known as “A” Mountain, just east of Las Cruces. Founded in 1963 under the supervision of Clyde Tombaugh, the observatory is equipped with a 1967 Boller and Chivens 24″ reflector telescope. The two-dome observatory building was completed in 1964, though observing began with one of the telescopes in 1963. A second building, with a larger single dome, was completed at the opposite end of the ridgeline of Tortugas Mountain in 1967.
For decades, the observatory was used primarily for imaging and monitoring of planetary targets such as Jupiter, in support of NASA’s Voyager space probes. Regular use of TMO ceased in 1999 or 2000, but the observatory equipment was not dismantled. In 2008 it was used for the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite project. Nowadays, TMO is operated both remotely and autonomously for NMSU undergraduate courses, small research projects, and monitoring of variable stars for the American Association of Variable Star Observers.
Source: NMSU Astronomy Department