In some remote regions of New Mexico, TV reception is little more than a starry-eyed fantasy. About 40 miles west of Socorro, though, 27 huge antenna dishes sprout from the high plains like a couch potato’s dream come true. Actually, the 240-ton dishes comprise the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array Radio Telescope. Together, they combine to form a very large eyeball peeking into the outer edges of the universe – which curious travelers can visit on a walking tour.
It would take a 422ft-wide satellite dish to provide the same resolution that this Y-shaped configuration of 82ft-wide antennas offers the observatory. Sure, the giant ’scope may reveal the relativistic electron movement in the heavens and allow geophysicists to wonder at the wobble of the earth on its axis…but what does it tell the rest of us? Well, without them, Jodie Foster never could have flashed forward into our future (or was it her past?) in the movie Contact, which was filmed here with a little help from Canyon de Chelly. The radio waves collected by these enormous dishes have increased our understanding of the complex phenomena that make up the surface of the sun. They have given us a gander at the internal heating source deep within the interiors of several planets sharing our orbit. They provide us with just enough information to turn our concepts of time and space inside-out as we extrapolate the existence of varieties of matter that, sans satellites, might only exist in our imaginations as we spin through space on the head of this peculiar little blue-green globe.