Long bios

Jamey Eriksen

I was born in northern California and raised in the rainy Willamette Valley in Oregon. A small town called Cottage Grove was my home till college at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR. At the U of O, I studied Physics and Political Science. My love for Astronomy started in college when I was lucky enough to be a work study student for a new Astronomer hired into the Physics department. The handful of trips to the small observatory in eastern Oregon, Pine Mountain Observatory ran by the U of O, really ignited my passion.

After graduating from the U of O, I attended graduate school at San Diego State University where I pursued a Masters in Astronomy. My area of focus was on instrumentation. At SDSU I worked on building CCD and IR camera control systems and fully integrated detector and control systems. Once I graduated with my Masters degree, I continued to work at SDSU building astronomical camera systems for observatories around the world. Was even lucky enough to go to some of those observatories and help with installation of the camera systems. Eventually, I left SDSU for a position at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) that is located on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. A few years later, and after having a bit of island fever, I returned to the mainland to work on testing and designing CCDs at a company in Oregon (some of you may remember SITe CCDs). Then in the continuing evolution of my astronomy path, I moved onto Ball Aerospace and worked on star trackers and payload camera systems for a couple different spacecraft.

After Ball Aerospace, I took a break and went into the private sector for a non astronomy job, which taught me that I wanted to be back in astronomy. The return to astronomy was a position at Palomar Observatory working for CalTech. While at Palomar, I worked my way up to be the head of the Electrical Engineering group.

Eventually, as I grew tired of the sun and great weather in southern California, I accepted the role of Director of Operations at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. My family and I have only been in New Mexico for 3.5m years, so we are far from the multi generation families, or life long residents some of the members of our chapter are.

Here at APO, in addition to my role as Director of Operations, I am working on expanding the public outreach and education that is done in Sunspot NM. Here in Sunspot, there is the night time observatory (APO) as well as the day time observatory (Sunspot Solar Observatory, SSO). The public outreach and Visitor Center at SSO sees over 1000 people per month where they can go on a tour of the solar telescope as well as learn about various astronomy topics in the visitor center museum area.

Like Galen, I was similarly approached by Michael Rymer to help with establishing the New Mexico Chapter of DarkSky International and that is why I am here. I feel that everyone interested or working in Astronomy in New Mexico should be embraced and welcomed into the chapter. I don’t feel that being a long time resident or a new resident changes your passion or devotion to keeping the night skies dark, or the radio frequencies quiet here in New Mexico, or in the border cities. It will be necessary for our Chapter to work with El Paso and Juarez on dark sky preservation!

With my role at APO and SSO, I feel I can contribute, and I am interested in helping on the side for gathering data for current light pollution, and trends over the years. I am also intrigued by the state level policies and how things are done in the roundhouse, which I would like to help with as well.

Galen Gisler

I was born in Clovis New Mexico, which was also my mother’s birthplace. But from the age of 6 weeks until I was 7 years old we lived in Ocotlán, Jalisco. We moved back to Clovis in time for me to start 2nd grade, and I continued in the Clovis public schools until I graduated high school. Clovis is a farming and ranching town made slightly more cosmopolitan by the presence of Cannon Air Force Base. The skies were generally clear and dark, and my love for astronomy was sparked by spending nights outdoors. After graduation from Clovis High in 1968, I had a scholarship to attend Yale University, where I majored in physics and astronomy. I then won a scholarship to study in England for graduate school, and started out at the University of Sussex near Brighton, but eventually got to Cambridge University, where I got my PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics. My thesis topic concerned evolution of galaxies and development of quasars and radio galaxies. Excepting my early years in Mexico, England was the first foreign country I had lived in.

My first postdoctoral appointment was at Leiden University in the Netherlands, where I was exposed to observational radio astronomy. But my second postdoc took me to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. Wanting to get back to New Mexico and hearing of the plans for the Very Large Array, I took a job with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville Virginia, hoping that would lead to a position at the VLA. That didn’t work out, but being in Charlottesville led me to meet the person who would become my wife.

Los Alamos National Laboratory appealed to me because of the wide spectrum of science being pursued there, some astrophysics but lots of other subjects that interested me as well. I joined LANL in 1981 and over the course of the next 25 years worked in various fields: plasma physics in space and in laboratory contexts, large-scale multi-physics computer simulations, jets from galaxies, adaptive processing, detection of optical transients, gamma-ray bursts, asteroid impacts and the possibility of mitigation. After retiring from LANL I took a job at the Center for the Physics of Geological Processes at the University of Oslo in Norway, where I continued work on asteroid impacts, but also studied tsunamis, volcanism, and earthquakes.

My wife and I returned to Los Alamos in 2012, and I undertook some consulting for LANL, but mostly did volunteer work for the new Los Alamos Nature Center, where I became the chief planetarium operator, and I became mentor for the Los Alamos High School Astronomy Club. These activities have helped me manage the transition from professional astrophysicist to amateur astronomer!

I have a couple of telescopes now and usually participate in the monthly star parties held by the Pajarito Astronomers at Overlook Park in White Rock, as well as at the neighboring units of the National Park Service, Bandelier National Monument and Valles Caldera National Preserve. My awareness of the growing problem of light pollution began with these activities. With Didier Saumon and some others we drafted a new lighting ordinance for Los Alamos County which was eventually adopted, with some changes, effective this past January. We haven’t seen much change yet, of course. Didier and I also helped with the SQM readings that led to Valles Caldera being designated an International Dark Sky Park, and we have also been performing SQM readings for Bandelier.

In January of 2023 I was approached by Bettymaya Foot and Michael Rymer to help with the project of establishing a New Mexico Chapter of DarkSky International, and that’s why I’m here. I’m interested in helping out in any way that proves useful. Since I’ve delved pretty deeply into lighting ordinances, that is probably where I can help most

Jon Holtzman

I was born and grew up in Baltimore MD. The summer before I went to college, I worked with an organization doing trailwork in Zion National Park, and I was blown away by the open spaces and dark night skies, unlike anything I had previously experience. Motivated by this, I decided to take an astronomy class my first semester, had a great professor, and this led me to a major in Astronomy (not what I had anticipated!). I spent one of my college summers working through the Student Conservation Association as a ranger in Badlands National Park, where I had the opportunity to do some interpretative programs, including some nighttime programs.

I moved on to graduate school in Astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. That was shortly before the originally planned launch date of the Hubble Space Telescope, and I started down a path of defining a dissertation using early HST data. Unfortunately, the Challenger disaster put a stop to that plan, and I ended up combining some work I had done on data analysis with HST with some numerical cosmology calculations for my Ph.D. work.

Shortly after graduating, the HST was launched, and I was fortunate enough to be fairly deeply involved in the early days of the observatory. As some may recall, the primary mirror of Hubble was inadvertently polished to the wrong shape (interesting story there), and I was closely involved with discovering and diagnosing the problem, which, fortunately, was correctable in subsequent instruments that were installed on HST.

I worked at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff AZ for six years before taking a position on the faculty at New Mexico State University in 1995, where I have been ever since. At NMSU, we do a combination of teaching (at both undergraduate and graduate level) and research, along with some outreach.

My main research interests have been in the area of stellar populations, studying the distribution of properties of stars (ages and chemical compositions). However, I find myself largely interested in data analysis and understanding instrumentation, and spend a signficant amount of time working on data reduction and analysis software. I have been very involved with the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), one of the projects under the auspices of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. A currect active area of work is getting robotic fiber positions to precisely locate optical and infrared fibers in the focal planes of the SDSS telescope at Apache Point and the DuPont telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory.

Outside of astronomy, I enjoy the outdoors and find comfort and solace in looking at the night sky and recognizing friends up in the sky. My main motivation for working on preserving dark skies is to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity.

Gary Starkweather

My name is Gary Starkweather. I was born in Miami Florida in 1955 and I grew up, mostly in the southeast Florida area. In 1973, I moved to North Carolina to attend Warren Wilson College. I married in 1975 while attending Warren Wilson, and graduated in 1977 with a degree in behavioral science.

After college, I moved back to South Florida and started a couple of businesses specializing in radio distribution and satellite C band systems. Being interested electronics, I accepted a job in 1981 working for a mobile telephone company in Florida as chief engineer, and maintained their network infrastructure. In the mid 1980s, I helped to develop and operate a fully automated pre-cellular mobile telephone network that operated across South Florida.

I was interested in astronomy, but the demands of a 30 year old and father of two, did not allow for time or money to pursue this interest. However, in 1986, I heard about Haley’s comet, and was determined to photograph the comet, knowing that I would not live long enough to see Haley’s comet a second time. Using very modest equipment and film cameras, I did manage to capture a nice picture of Haley’s Comet, my first astronomy picture. After that, I abandoned astronomy and devoted my time to family and business.

In 1987 I re-married and in 1989, I started a new business with a partner. The new company specialized in managing wireless radio properties. By 1992, our new wireless site management company had grown to a portfolio of 30 properties in Florida. By 2007, our company was managing 450 wireless properties located in 17 states in the southeast United States. On April 15, 2007, we sold the company and officially retired.

Being retired, I could finally resume my interest in astronomy. In the summer of 2007, I purchased a 14 inch Telescope and joined the Treasure Coast Astronomy Club in Fort Pierce, Florida. I worked diligently to learn about astrophotography. My inventory of telescopes and cameras grew quickly, and in 2008, I built a specialized air suspension trailer so I could easily transport astronomy gear to dark sky places. For me astronomy was fun, and being retired, l could spend all the time I wanted on astronomy, learning the capabilities and limitations of mounts, cameras, and optics. By 2011, I felt that I had reached the practical limits of portable astronomy gear, and the rainy, light polluted skies of Florida remarkably limited imaging time.

In 2012, my wife and I purchased a larger RV, and in the spring, we began a journey around the United States to find a new place for astronomy. We narrowed our search criteria, because the very best sites were either too remote, too cold, or too isolated. In August 2012, we chose New Mexico Astronomy Village (NMAV) in Deming, southwest New Mexico and bought land, having no idea how long it would take to create an astronomy retirement home, beginning with raw land. NMAV was a great dark sky location, and New Mexico even had a Dark Sky Protection Act to protect the dark skies. It all looked perfect, so what could possibly go wrong?

In 2013, we began by building a barn, a house, and a work shop. It took three years to sell our Florida and Mexico real property and consolidate everything to NMAV in Deming. During that time, we lived in our RV and in May 2015, we moved into the house at NMAV. It took three more years to more fully develop the property and add additional infrastructure. In 2017 I searched for observatory products between 17 and 20 feet in diameter and after finding only unaffordably high prices, I decided to build my own. So I designed my own observatories and ordered the metals required for construction from a fabricator in California.

In the summer of 2018, construction of three observatories began, a 20 ft dome and two 17 ft domes. Harsh weather and the pandemic slowed progress, but by 2021, construction of all three observatories was completed and most of the astronomical hardware was either ordered or installed. It took two more years to bring all three observatories to operational status. The last cameras and specialized software were installed in August 2023.

It took my wife and I over ten years to transition from mobile astronomy in Florida, to having permanent, university grade observatories in NMAV. During that ten years of transition, I became keenly aware of the rapid increase in light pollution from LED lights, undermining the primary reason that we moved to New Mexico. The New Mexico Dark Sky Protection Act of 1999 has proven to be inadequate, and the cities and counties where I live have shown little to no appetite for controlling harmful outdoor lighting. Looking forward, I expect to be spending most of my time learning to operate the observatories. I hope to reserve some of my time for the essential task of protecting the night skies of New Mexico.