Thursday, February 7, 2013

Very Large Array, New Mexico, Part 2: Geeky Wonderfulness

Very Large Array, Highway 60, near Magdalena, New Mexico

Getting to the Very Large Array (VLA) requires a pretty serious investment in time and gas, so listen up:

If you happen to be driving by (only likely if you're using the lonely Highway 60 to get from Socorro to, say,  well, never mind, Highway 60 isn't an efficient way to get to anywhere unless your destination is Pie Town) ....

So let me approach it this way: If I made a special trip to the VLA, I would make damn sure it was on the first Saturday of the month, when I can go on the 11:00, 1:00, or 3:00 tour.

If you don't go on a tour, then sure, you can walk over to one of the dishes, and visit the small (and cramped, truth be told) visitor's center and gift shop, but if you're like me, it will feel pretty low-calorie.

With the free tour, however, you get to: 
  • Watch a pretty interesting movie;
  • Listen to a knowledgeable docent and ask her geeky questions; 
  • Go into the building with the Control Room (with the avocado phones!);
  • Talk to the Control Guy on duty; 
  • See the Real Live Geeky Computer Stuff in the Control Room; and  
  • Go out on the balcony overlooking the dishes. 

The tour took about an hour and a half, so plan a solid two hours for your on-site visit. Figure close to an hour to get from Socorro to the VLA.

Uh, what's VLA about? Radio astronomy.

Whirlpool Galaxy. Credit: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

And now I need to amend what I said about there being nothing along Highway 60. I was kicking myself for not planning an overnight stay in Magdalena or even Socorro because I passed these really intriguing spots that I didn't have time to explore on a one-day trip to/from Alamogordo:

And when I turned onto Highway 52, and saw a road sign pointing to Winston, NM, only 59 miles away, I was really kicking myself, because there's a story there that I want to hear, having to do with Victorio's great-great granddaughter ....but it will keep for another day.

A slide show of the Very Large Array:


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