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NMSU's Apache Point Observatory has project with highest impact on astronomy

SUNSPOT, N.M. - Researchers around the world are still looking to Apache Point Observatory (APO) for expertise when they publish out-of-this-world works.

Liz Lopez, Amy Brown and Cecilia Richardson work with the cheese they made in 2008 at the Artisan Cheese Making Workshop in Las Cruces, which was offered by NMSU's food technology program. Northern New Mexico residents will have an opportunity to take the workshop March 25-27 at Taos County Economic Development Corporation food center. (NMSU photo by Nancy Flores)

An independent analysis of observatories with the highest scientific impact on astronomy has ranked Apache Point's Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) as the leading project among the world's observatories.

This is the fourth time in the last five years SDSS has ranked first.

"We're still a major player in this area, still No. 1 in citations," said Kurt Anderson, site director for the observatory.

APO is operated by New Mexico State University for the Astrophysical Research Consortium through the Department of Astronomy.

Anderson said one way to judge a scientific work is by the number of citations it receives. The analysis, conducted by Juan P. Madrid, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada; and F. Duccio Macchetto, of Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore, Md., is based on the most cited papers published in 2006. According to the results of the analysis, SDSS was cited nearly 1,900 times in 2006 and in the last two years.

This is an important recognition for APO as it helps researchers when they seek out funding for projects, Anderson said.

"This is a measure of our productivity, as viewed by the larger scientific community. This kind of recognition is certainly helpful when we seek funding partners for new projects," he said.

Anderson said he believed that this ranking of the SDSS results in part because the project regularly makes its observational data freely available to all astronomers - and to students, teachers and the general public everywhere.

The SDSS is a collaborative project involving institutions around the world. It is currently involved in three major projects: understanding the origins of the large-scale structure of our universe, mapping the structure of our galaxy at optical and infrared wavelengths, and searching for planetary systems around neighboring stars.

The 2.5-meter SDSS telescope leads the world's observatories, in front of Swift and the Hubble Space Telescope respectively.

The observatory is located in the Sacramento Mountains, within the Lincoln National Forest. It is operated by NMSU and is the home to several telescopes in addition to the 2.5-meter SDSS instrument, including the 3.5-meter Astrophysical Research Consortium telescope; the 1.0-meter NMSU telescope; and the SDSS 0.5-meter photometric telescope.

The online article, "High-Impact Astronomical Observatories," can be viewed at http://arxiv.org/pdf/0901.4552v1.