Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Views of space available to rent online

Last summer, amateur astronomer Carl Kirby had five reasons to stay up all night looking for planets orbiting stars besides the Sun.

With the expansion of a deep-space viewing telescope network that began in New Mexico, the Mora resident has three more.

A collection of five telescopes in the southern part of the state has expanded its reach into the night sky by teaming up with telescopes in Australia and Israel.

Now known as Global Rent-a-Scope instead of Rent-a-Scope, the network of telescopes allows those curious about deep space to rent time on the devices using a Web browser.

“You feel like you’re making a contribution to science in some manner,” Kirby said. “It’s very intense, but I just found it fascinating.”

Kirby, 57, used to investigate skies light-years away up to 40 hours a week, but health problems forced him to pull out. Now, unable to stay up throughout the night, he buys time on the telescopes and donates it to others. He’s still considering a team project with other astronomy aficionados around the world.

With the addition of two telescopes in Australia and one in Israel, he said viewing can take place 24 hours a day because there will always be a night sky available at one of the observation points.

That means new projects – those tracking celestial objects for long periods of time – can be undertaken.

“As dark came up on us, light would be coming up on them, and we’d just hand it off and I could take over here,” he said.

As Arnie Rosner, the man behind Global Rent-a-Scope, said, “The sun never rises at Rent-a-Scope.”

About four years ago, Rosner set up two telescopes at an observatory in Mayhill. He quickly expanded to five to accommodate demand for the service. The Australian telescopes joined a couple of months ago, and he hopes the Israeli telescope will be online within the week.

“What I ended up doing here is providing the resources for these brilliant people we work with to do their thing,” said Rosner, one of several partners in Global Rent-a-Scope. “We just kind of stand behind the curtain and turn them loose and see what they can do.”

He said about 500 people buy time on the telescopes, including professional researchers, amateur astronomers, students and others. With the 24-hour viewing available on the expanded network, he said tracking certain asteroids near the Earth and planets outside our solar system would be made easier.

“A big threat to our current civilization is one of these large asteroids might be on a collision path with the Earth,” he said. “The important thing about 24 hours of observation is you have a longer period to capture decent data.”

One bit of data collected by the telescope set-up in New Mexico is asteroid 117715. It’s also known as “Carlkirby.”

The man who discovered the asteroid in April 2005 did so while using telescope time donated by Kirby.

“I’ve got a rock floating around up there with my name on it,” Kirby said. “I got a thrill out of it.”

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