Sixteen miles from Cloudcroft, NM, through the most scenic stretch of highway that I have seen (to date) in the Sacramento Mountains, nestled in the Lincoln National Forest at 9,200 feet and situated within the unincorporated community of Sunspot, a stark white tower rises up like a modern day obelisk at the center of a sun worshiping cult. Adding to the mystique, deer and cows roam the beautiful grounds of the facility as though it were a petting zoo, rather than an observatory. Stunning butterflies sit and pose for pictures and the roads have names like “telescope.” One short road, where a total of two trailers are parked, is fittingly named…. “trailer”.
Scenic byway (6563) to Sunspot is marked with signs that represent the distance between each of our nine planets (in 1:250 million mile scale) starting with Neptune and ending with the sun at the Observatory, in Sunspot.
The scenic byway number (6563) is named after the wavelength of of light produced by hydrogen gas at about 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Well of course! I knew that already and I’m sure you did too. They have even calculated the relative speed that you travel through the 16 mile long solar system model….. four times the speed of light! I hope the police don’t play this little game too and hand out tickets using the same scale!
Sunspots are associated with strong magnetic fields on the Sun. As the magnetic fields twist and turn, they build up a tremendous amount of energy. This energy can be released explosively in what is called a flare, as pictured here. Eruptive phenomena associated with flares can eject material from the Sun at such speeds that some of it can reach the Earth. This can result in displays of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, seen frequently at higher latitudes. – (http://nsosp.nso.edu/dst)
I copied this image and the above desciption from the NSO web site. The URL is above.
The longest part of the above telescope is hidden as it extends 228 feet below the ground. See the below image.
Visitors can go inside the telescope building and walk around the perimeter. The only thing keeping you from touching things that you shouldn’t touch is a rope. I’m not sure if the man in the picture below has a headache from working on a sun size problem or if he’s thinking, “Oh gee whiz, not another group of ignorant visitors!” Actually, he told me that he was aligning a series of optic lenses for a scientist who was looking at the light coming through them and splitting it into different wavelengths or colors…. something like that… I’m sure I’ve butchered what he said.
When no one was looking, I made some random adjustments to the below lenses and when the technician walked away from his calculator I quickly made some random: additions, subtractions, divisions and multiplications. Why? I figure if the entire universe is the result of random processes then this fellow is working too hard to discover order, so I threw a little randomness in there to help get him back on track.
The National Solar Observatory in Sunspot is a fascinating and beautiful place where you can take a self-guided tour of the facilities or attend a guided tour. There is also an astronomy and visitor center with many excellent exhibits and a gift shop.
The below picture was taken at Haynes Canyon which is along the scenic byway.
There is another great reason to go to Sunspot, besides the NSO and that’s to see what must surly be the very best view of the Tularosa Basin and White Sands from anywhere. The below picture is a terrible reproduction of what I saw with my eyes but it’s the best I was able to get. The view is spectacular and panoramic in scope, but I have only bothered to post this one image. I would go to Sunspot again, many times, just for this view alone. It will never look the same twice.
I took this close up to show the age of the building and condition. It’s not what I expected. I did not realize that many of the buildings were built in the 50s, and was a little surprised to see chipped paint and rust, etc. I find it interesting that a scientific device built in the early 1950s is still being used today.
This would be a fun address to have… “Telescope Rd. Sunspot, NM”
Grain Bin Dome Telescope
Below is the first telescope built in Sunspot in 1950. The Observatory ordered a grain bin from a Sears catalog and modified it for use as a telescope dome. This telescope was not used by the NSO after 1963, and in 1995 a nighttime telescope was installed to all the residents of Sunspot to view the night sky.
The cows grazing on the NSO facility grounds are not fenced in. They can walk right up to you.
Thanks for stopping by.