The Rio Rancho Rainbow Park Observatory, Dr. Harrison Hagen Schmitt Open-Air Planetarium, and Mark D. Leonard Interactive Sundial is located at 301 Southern Blvd.
The observatory/planetarium is open to the public each month during the Rio Rancho Astronomical Society's (RRAS) regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting is traditionally held on the Friday closest to the first quarter moon starting at 7 p.m. (8 p.m. during daylight saving time). Detailed scheduling and meeting time information is available on the RRAS Website.
The Rio Rancho Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department oversees the management/operation of the observatory. For more information about the Rio Rancho Rainbow Park Observatory please visit www.rrastro.org
Project History and Detail
The city of Rio Rancho worked with the RRAS, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, for several years to construct a roll-off top observatory (officially dedicated on Nov. 9, 2013) to house three telescopes provided by the RRAS. Two permanently mounted telescopes were donated to the RRAS by the family of the late Walter Hiltbrunner, a Rio Rancho resident. A 25” Obsession Telescope was a gift from John Sefick, a part-time Rio Rancho resident from Chicago, Ill., who helped initiate the Chaco Culture Historical Park’s observatory and night sky program, and augmented the astronomy program at Rio Rancho High School.
The observatory, constructed on city-owned park property, includes storage and inside observation space for astronomical studies. The observatory’s outdoor space has been designed for public and educational youth programs that is programmed by RRAS and the Rio Rancho Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.
Construction work started in October 2012 and included donated work and materials through three Eagle Scout projects (building foundation – Michael Brown, Troop #338; building framing – Tyler Mertens, Troop #417; and concrete patio and landing - Calvin Simmons, Troop #338). Design and professional services were also donated by URI, Inc. and K-Star Electric.
Direct construction costs for Phase 1 were approximately $29,000. Funding sources included $36,000 from the city of Rio Rancho ($20,000 in City Council District 1 discretionary funds and $16,000 from city general fund and park impact fee sources); Sandoval County Commission allocation of $15,000; and $2,000 raised by the RRAS.
Construction of the outdoor planetarium was funded by the City using remaining available funds from the construction of the Observatory. Funding allocated for this project totaled $23,507 and include $15,881 in Park Impact Fees; $4,460 in Councilor Discretionary Funds; and $3,166 in Sandoval County Grant Funds. Harris Jewelers donated approximately $1,500 of stones and materials for the sundial. The planetarium officially opened on Sept. 19, 2015.