Sunday, December 9, 2012

Something Old, Something New

Socorro, New Mexico
December 7, 2012

 This is our third early morning at Bosque del Apache.  Even with long underwear, multiple sweater layers, a down parka, hand warmers in my gloves and toe warmers in my boots, you can see that I am not feeling comfortable standing around out here with a temperature of 25 degrees.  Fortunately, once the brutally bright sun is up for a couple hours, the temperature starts to soar to somewhere in the 60s, and we can shed most of our many layers. 

Although we can’t seem to get enough of the birds, we are also taking time in the heat of the day to explore a bit around the town and countryside.
Something Old
Our base of operations for our Bosque adventure is a Super 8 Motel in nearby Socorro, New Mexico. “Socorro” means help in Spanish.  The town was given this name by Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onante back in 1598 when the Piro Indians here were kind to him and his men, providing them with corn and shelter when they were cold and hungry in 1598. 

Two Franciscan priests from Onante’s party stayed behind with the Indians, and eventually built a mission here from 1615 to 1626, when they renamed the village Nuestra Senora de Perpetual Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). 

 This Mission church was rebuilt on the site of the original mission in 1821. Its adobe walls are five feet thick.  The story is told that shortly after its completion, Apaches were advancing to attack the Mission. They saw an angel with a brilliantly shining sword hovering over the church, and retreated in fear.  The Mission was then renamed San Miguel to honor St. Michael the guardian angel.  It is still very active today.

Something New
Our little group of five photographers took an afternoon field trip to the Very Large Array  Radio Telescope (VLA, to those in the know), way out on a 7,000 foot high desert plain fifty miles west of town.  The telescope has 27 antennas, each with a dish as large in diameter as a baseball diamond.  The dishes sit on railroad tracks that are in a Y configuration--two of the tracks are thirteen miles long and the other is nine miles long.  Depending on the research project, the antennas can be placed far apart or close together.  On our visit, they were spread out about as far as they could go--with about a mile between each antenna.  When they are spread out that much, they equal the power of one antenna with a dish seventeen miles in diameter!

The VLA has collected radio wave information that helps scientists understand cosmic objects as close as our own sun and planets, to galaxies billions of light years away.  Hundreds of astronomers use the VLA every year. The data they collect is sent to an analysis center on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro where the radio waves collected are processed by computers and turned into images that help to solve the mysteries of the cosmos. 

As we were leaving the VLA, the antenna dishes all slowly changed position in unison. Cosmic! 

Refocussing us from the extraterrestial to the terrestial, a herd of antelope were grazing on the grassy plain around the VLA.  


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