A few days ago, during a meetup with my team, we visited the Very Large Array, near the town of Socorro, in New Mexico. To say it’s awesome it’s an understatement. Certainly every person would have a different appreciation, but to somebody that has always wanted to see it, it was certainly amazing.
Starting in the sunny Albuquerque, it takes around 2 hs by car. You’ll drive south down the I 25 and then turn left on Socorro, taking the US 60 towards the west.
The road to the VLA through the US 60 crosses some cute and colorful towns, albeit a bit deserted, like Socorro and Magdalena, where the photo above was taken, which according to Wikipedia, has little more than 900 inhabitants. After a while, you’ll see them from the distance. The white dishes looking into the space.
The desert, the emptiness around it all, the sun scorching the Earth. It all gives it a fascinating aura of mystery. It’s fascinating to think that this is reaching the darkest corners of the universe. From the loneliness and warmth of the desert, the VLA has seen into the loneliness and cold of the center of our galaxy, at 26,000 light years away.
There’s almost no noise on this area, except for the occasional movement of the huge antennas. It’s like everything is quiet, listening to any rambunctious star that raises its voice in the space.
If this place looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s been featured in many movies, like Terminator Salvation or more prominently, in the movie adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, with Jodie Foster. There’s a place in the visitant center where they explain a bit how the filming went and the video show in the tour is voiced by Jodie Foster herself.
There are some other elements like a sun clock, a large area that resembles an antenna dish area, two mini antennas that exemplify how the real antennas amplify the wavelengths, for example sound, even if they’re whispers. Finally, like most places in New Mexico, there are rattlesnakes, so you better watch your steps and keep them inside the trails!