New Mexico Attractions June 17, 2017
The One New Mexico Attraction That’s In The Middle Of Nowhere But So Worth The Journey
Your destination looms on the horizon, its height sharply contrasting with the flat expanse of the Plains of San Agustin. Its elaborate technology looks totally out of place surrounded by open, uninhabited land. No one stumbles upon the Very Large Array by accident. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere, located between the small towns of Magdalena and Datil. The closest town you’re likely to have heard of is Socorro, 50 miles to the east.
So why trek out to such a remote location?
This journey leads to the most advanced radio telescope array on the planet. Even if you napped your way through science class, you’ll want to visit.
The radio telescope is made up of 27 massive dishes – each one is 82 feet in diameter.
Arranged in a Y-formation, their job is to detect radio waves from space.
Radio telescopes have to be built in places without human radio interference. This is the perfect spot. There are no large cities nearby and it’s dry. Humidity makes it hard to monitor radio waves, so the less moisture in the air, the better.
Some of the top scientists in the world come here to learn about our universe. Whether they are trying to answer questions about stars, black holes, or dark matter, these dishes can help to provide the answer.
Most of us don’t get to experience what these scientists see. The VLA was used to gather the purple portion of this composite image, which also includes pictures from other observatories and the Hubble Space Telescope. What you’re looking at is a black hole in a galaxy 23 million light years away. Take a moment for that to sink in!
A few years back, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, or VLA, wasn’t really set up for visitors. However, that’s all changed.
Now, there’s a visitor center where you can receive a science class you’ll definitely want to pay attention to. Definitely watch the informational movie. If the narrator sounds familiar, that’s because it’s voiced by Jodie Foster - the VLA appeared in her 1997 movie "Contact."
From the visitor center, take a self-guided walking tour.
Guided tours are available but only on the first Saturday of the month, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
You can get surprisingly close to the nearest dishes. If you’re lucky, you may get to watch them tilt and change position.
Each dish weighs 230 tons!
There are actually 28 dishes here - but one is a spare.
The VLA belongs on every New Mexican's bucket list. Did you know science could be this beautiful?
The VLA is located off US-60.
Here is a map.
Learn more at the
National Radio Astronomy Observatory website.
Although the VLA is in the middle of nowhere, you can still find amenities in the area. Check out the Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil (at the intersection of Highway 60 and State Road 12) for a steak the size of your head. There are plenty of excellent dining options in Socorro as well.
Have you visited this awe-inspiring spot?
Sometimes New Mexico’s best-kept secrets are hiding in remote places. Check out
a winery in the middle of nowhere and a restaurant you’re unlikely to discover by accident.
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