Outside Socorro, US West 60

New Mexico photographs

A collection of photographs taken during my year in Socorro.
(Click on the pictures for a larger copy.)

Sunset from the front yard One of my first impressions of New Mexico was that of open space and sweeping horizons: on a clear day, you can see for ever and ever.

Socorro is at 4600 feet (1400 meters) above sea level, and the air is startlingly clear, so the sunsets are usually rather brief. Every once in a while, though, the whole sky seems to catch fire in a gorgeous display...

And when the stars come out at night, there are so many of them that its often hard to trace out familiar constellations. Out in the desert, a few miles away from city glow, the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon: its a breathtaking sight.

Desert flower and power grid Miniature waterfall, trailside, South Baldy The desert has its own stark, desolate beauty. The town areas, with their strips of generic fast food joints and motels, have the usual degree of tackiness. It's at the edges, where civilization is eating its way into the desert, that things look really dismal. Scars carved out by bulldozers and dynamite, power lines marching through desert scrub: it's an ugly price to pay for progress.

Fortunately, there are areas, remote and inaccessible, which look like no human has stepped there in years. And there are forests, quiet trails, even the occasional bubbling brook.

The Very Large Array, stormy sunset I worked at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro, New Mexico, home to the Very Large Array. The VLA is set of 27 antennas in the plains of San Augustin, about an hour's drive west of the town. Not only is it one of the world's premier radio telescopes, it is also extremely photogenic.

Antenna and clouds The VLA is a synthesis array. The 27 antennas (each of which is 25 meters across and weighs 230 tons) are arranged in a sprawling Y pattern upto 36 km (22 miles) across, and the signals received at each antenna are combined ("correlated") so that the array behaves like a single telescope of that size.

Another sunset, VLA On a good day, the VLA will run almost without human intervention. (On a bad day, its a whole different story! Some of those electronics date to the eighties.) But its always fun to go out to the site and wait for those perfect sunsets.

About these photographs:

These photographs were taken at various times since June 1998, using a Canon EOS Elan II body with a 24-80 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. The photos are on Kodak Gold ISO 100 (and some ISO 200) or Fuji Superia ISO 400 film, processed through standard one hour machines. Yes, they botch most of it, but hey! I'm a grad student, I don't have the money for professional labs yet...

These were scanned in and cropped using Corel Photo. No digital magic (except that I converted the desert power grid photo from color into grainy greyscale, but that hardly counts).

Return to my Cornell homepage or my NRAO page.

Shami Chatterjee
Last modified: August 25 1998
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