SOUTH OF SOCORRO The village of San Antonio, the boyhood home of Conrad Hilton, is 10 miles from Socorro on I-25. During the financial panic of 1907, his merchant father, Augustus Hilton, converted part of his store into a rooming house. That gave Conrad his first exposure to the hospitality industry, and he went on to worldwide fame as a hotelier. Only ruins of the store and boardinghouse remain. WEST OF SOCORRO Fifty-four miles west of Socorro on US 60 is the Very Large Array National Radio Astronomy Observatory, or VLA. Here, 27 dish-shaped antennas, each 82 feet in diameter, spread across the plains of San Agustin, forming a single gigantic radio telescope. Many recognize the site from the 1997 movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster. Photographs taken with this apparatus are similar to those taken with the largest optical telescopes, except that radio telescopes are sensitive to low-frequency radio waves. All types of celestial objects are photographed, including the sun and its planets, stars, quasars, galaxies, and even the faint remains of the "big bang" that scientists believe occurred some 10 billion years ago.
You begin in the visitor center, viewing an informational film about the VLA. In the museum, you can see how radio waves can be transformed into space pictures and why this is such an effective method of exploration. On the outdoor, self-guided walking tour, you'll have a chance to get a closer look at the massive antennas. Don't miss the whispering display, where you can sample firsthand how a dish collects and transmits sound. Admission is free, and visitors are welcomed daily from 8:30am to sunset. The Socorro office is at 1003 Lopezville Rd. NW (& 505/835-7000; www.nrao.edu).
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