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The General Nathan Twining Observatory

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GNTO is really a story about community, rather than just about telescopes and viewing dark skies.  It's a story about the community sharing it's treasures, and resources, so that the whole community continues to grow.  It's a story about Bill Isengard, LtCol USAF, Retired, sharing a wonderful telescope, and land being donated in honor of a father.  And the story continues to grow.

Around the year 1980 Wilma Isengard made a suggestion to her husband, amateur astronomer Lt Col Bill Isengard USAF, Ret., that has had a profound and long lasting effect on The Albuquerque Astronomical Society. Isengard TelescopeDue to ailing health, Bill Isengard was no longer able to use his 16” f/6 Cave-Astrola Telescope, and the thought of this wasted instrument troubled him.  Wilma suggested he donate the telescope to the Albuquerque Astronomers (now TAAS), a group he had belonged to for years.  Bill presented the Albuquerque Astronomers with a proposal, “Find a dark location and build a secure building to house the telescope and it’s yours.”  This began the development and ultimate creation of TAAS's General Nathan Twining Observatory.

In 1988 Nathan Twining after hearing of the need for an observatory site offered to donate four acres of land southwest of Belen. In January 1989 TAAS accepted donation of the 4 acres of land and ownership of the "Isengard" telescope.  The new observatory was named after the father of the man who donated the land, General Nathan Farragut Twining, who was a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Eisenhower, and who had passed away in 1982. Ground Breaking By June of 1989, the first hand drawn map to the observatory site was published in the Sidereal Times and TAAS star parties began to be held there on a regular basis. On March 31, 1990, LtCol Bill Isengard (USAF, Ret.), Nathan Twining Jr., and then President of TAAS, David Finley, with shovels in hand and TV News cameras rolling, broke ground for the new observatory. A ground breaking speech was given by George Pellegrino.

Main Dome InstallationThe dome, an old grain silo cap, was donated by former member Alan Otterson and arrived in September 1989. On April 24, 1990, construction began with the digging of the foundation.  When funds for construction started running low Nathan Twining Jr. made an offer to donate up to $5000 in matching funds. TAAS members donated $2,653 and construction continued.

Pouring the Foundation First Day of Laying Block Finishing the Floor Installing the Upper Deck Second Floor with First Piece of Decking
Pouring the Foundation First Day of
Laying Block
the Floor
Installing the
Upper Deck
Second Floor with
First Piece of Decking
(August 11, 1990)
Final Adjustments on Door Building the Stairs Constructing and Welding the Dome Framework Installing the Shutter Motor Aligning and Dropping the Dome
Final Adjustments
on Door
Building the Stairs
(August 18, 1990)
Constructing and Welding
the Dome Framework
Installing the
Shutter Motor
Aligning and Dropping
the Dome

Dedication Audience  Dedication Audience Speaker Platform  Harrison Schmidt Speaking The observatory dedication was held on August 8th, 1992, with about 300 people in attendance. The Key Note Speaker was former US Senator and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Governor of New Mexico Bruce King proclaimed August 8, 1992, to be General Nathan Twining Observatory Day.
GNTO in 1994 is just one building As this 1994 photo shows, after the initial construction there was just the two story building with the dome on the top. Since then, the GNTO continued to grow and evolve. The Isengard primary mirror was recoated once, then refigured and recoated by Nova Optical.

Telescope RaffleGNTO was broken into in 1995 and items were stolen and the building vandalized.

To recoup some of our losses we raffled off a 12.5" f/7 Dobsonian telescope built by our own Mike Pendley.  Tickets were $2.00 each and the drawing was be held December 9th at our Society potluck dinner.  We raised over $1200 for the Observatory Break-In Fund.  Many thanks to all of you who helped sell raffle tickets.  Mr. D. vanWestrienen won the telescope!

Messier Marathon

On March 16, 1996, TAAS held a Messier Marathon.
Tractor Grading the Pad AreaIn August of 1997, the area to the south of the Observatory was graded and graveled, providing a safe, level observing area.

In January of 1998 the lower floor of the dome building was rebuilt, insulated and painted.

In spring of 1998, the Isengard telescope was renovated by removing two finder scopes and numerous counter-weights. The “new” lighter telescope was rebalanced on the rotating rings and freshly polar aligned, while the finder scopes were later converted into loaner telescopes for use at GNTO.

Most of the volunteers In August 1998 Theodore Schuler-Sandy, a Boy Scout with Troop 444 choose GNTO as the venue for his Eagle Scout Project. Theodore managed 59 volunteers over a three-day period to enhance the viewing area with concrete pads, paint the observatory, and add picnic and lecture areas to the site.

On August 15, 1998, TAAS Members Rick LaBorde and Cindy Carlson were married at GNTO.

The end of 1998 saw the replacement of the Isengard rotating rings, the installation of a manual shutter control system, and the anonymous donation of the Astrophysics refractor.

Photovoltaic Panels On February 26-27, 1999, Energía Total Ltd installed the solar electric power system. This 20 kw photovoltaic (PV) power system was funded through a grant from Public Service Company of New Mexico. The GNTO was the first site to receive funds from the Enchantment Energy Trust - part of PNM’s “green energy initiatives”.

In 1999, additional major improvements included a manual crank system for dome rotation, new decking and paint for the upper dome level, additional grading and graveling of the GNTO grounds, enhancements to the Isengard drive motor and NGC-MAX, installation of the Astrophysics pier, acquisition of high quality eyepieces, and installation of donated computers and associated software.

On December 27 and 29, 2001, Pete Eschman, Larry Cash, Karen Keese, Mark and Elaine Kroska installed a new front gate, modified the small dome so that it would turn with the door open, and repaired fencing.

Gate Installation  Gate Installation  Astrophysics Dome Door Modification

Messier Marathon
On April 13, 2002, TAAS held a Messier Marathon, attended by 50 people.

Messier Marathon

On March 29, 2003, TAAS held a Messier Marathon, attended by 36 people.

Current View of FacilityCommunity involvement has created a very nice facility. And it is still growing.

View old GNTO web information

Last Modified: September 27, 2012