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Mike Rice: Remote Observing — Best Practices and Lessons Learned at New Mexico Skies

Have you ever dreamed of observing the pristine night sky at a truly dark site from the comfort of your home in the city? Or dreamed of sending a distant telescope on a mission to collect images of beautiful deep sky objects while you get a full night's sleep and wake up refreshed and ready for an early day at work? Then remote observing may be just what you're looking for.

As founder and CEO of New Mexico Skies and Fair Dinkum Skies (Australia), Michael Rice has seen it all. He has 20 years of experience designing, building, operating, and maintaining remote observatories of many sizes — from small, single-user observatories to observatories used by large organizations such as Yale University, Cal Tech, and NASA. In his presentation, Michael will share the secrets of successfully setting up and operating your own remote observatory in ways that will maximize enjoyment and minimize distress.

Mike's talk will center on the promises and disappointments of remote astro-imaging, best practices and major suggestions to make any remote observatory project more productive and more fun.

If there is a maintenance problem or operating challenge for small telescopes (under 1 meter) that Mike and his team haven't seen and cured, it would be a major surprise.

Mike is Professor Emeritus in Economics and Finance at the University of Alaska. His formal training includes BS and MS Degrees from Florida State University and a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He had a 25 year academic career including teaching/research faculty positions at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University before moving to Alaska in 1983 to become Dean of the School of Management at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Mike's first love has always been astronomy which has been a serious affliction since he was 10 years old. Mike has been involved with hands-on astronomy for more than 60 years.

His first telescope, circa 1953, was a homebuilt 6" Newt on a plumbing GEM. He claims it was the last mirror he would ever grind.

His first serious astro image was Comet West, in 1976, produced on film emulsion through a homebuilt telescope

Mike's first serious CCD imaging in the early 1990s, using home-made cameras, including three variations of Richard Berry's Cookbook Camera.

His first remote observatory, in 1993, was located at Susitna Lake, Alaska, about 60 miles from power and telephone lines. It was controlled by Ham Radio over the highest mountains in North America. During this time, he conducted extensive testing on Bisque GT1100 Paramount serial No.1 This venture gave him a real appreciation for the challenges of remote imaging in the remote tundra of Alaska.

Mike and his wife, Lynn, established New Mexico Skies in 1998 in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico at a site described by professionals at Yale and Toronto as the darkest sky site in North America . It started as a "guest" observatory where visitors could use state of the art astronomical equipment with instructional help. Their business model has changed over the years. Now the primary focus is on hosting remote observatories in the wonderfully dark and clear skies of southern New Mexico. New Mexico Skies has become a fabulous laboratory for developing "best practices" in the design, construction, maintenance and use of remote observatories. In 2007 Mike and Lynn opened Fair Dinkum Skies observatory in Australia to host Southern hemisphere remote observatories.

New Mexico Skies (and Fair Dinkum Skies) hosted observatories have collected more then 100 APODs, discovered thousands of minor planets, discovered comets (including recent Comet Elenin), Super Novas and most recently exo-planets. Users have spotted methane clouds on Titan, meteor impact flashes on the moon and made major scientific discoveries. Their users include University of Toronto, Yale University, Cal Tech, NASA, St. Andrews University (Scotland), ISON, Plane Wave, I-Telescope, State of Virginia DOE and many others. Rob Gendler, SSRO and other world class imagers have used New Mexico Skies as their own. . New Mexico Skies currently has more than 40 observatories under host management and a staff of 5 full-time techs.