A new exhibition series celebrating New Mexico’s dark skies will include rare nighttime photography of the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) by astrophotographer Bettymaya Foott. Dark Sky Land Exhibition Series No. 1 / DARK – The Astronomers, which features images from 20 photographers and artifacts from the Astronomical Lyceum Collection, opens on May 6th at Warehouse 1-10 in Magdalena.
Foott was hired by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in early 2022 to capture the VLA under dark, pristine skies through multiple seasons—a sight few people ever see, and even fewer are able to photograph. To protect visitors, staff, the site, and the science—which, while not directly impacted by light pollution, is negatively impacted by radio frequency interference from high-tech devices like digital cameras—the VLA has strict protocols regarding photography at all times, and it isn’t open to the public at night. Foott’s sanctioned shoots further required months of planning and coordination with the VLA’s engineers and operators. This makes the image series borne of the shoot extremely rare.
Combined with uncertain and rapidly changing weather, capturing professional photography of the VLA— and particularly under dark skies—can be more difficult than it might appear, as Foott learned first-hand when she caught a lightning storm rolling up behind the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin during an approved shoot last year.
“I was thrilled to work with NRAO to capture the VLA as it is rarely seen, with a pristine night sky above,” said Foott. “I was a bit sad when I saw the clouds rolling in after driving six hours to capture the stars, but was happily surprised when the lightning storm started. It was at a safe distance away from our location, so we were safe to click away and capture the magic of that moment.”
Foott’s photo is presented alongside the work of 19 additional astrophotographers who have captured the wonder of the night sky in New Mexico. Also the title of a night sky environmental movement in New Mexico, the Dark Sky Land exhibit celebrates the community’s effort to protect a 100-mile astronomical corridor— which starts on HWY 60 at Magdalena Ridge Observatory and passes through the VLA on its way westward under one of the darkest skies remaining in North America—from the effects of light pollution on astronomy, human health, wildlife, and the environment. Foott, who also serves as the Director of Engagement for the International Dark-Sky Association, engages in similar efforts globally on a daily basis.
“Local dark sky efforts are incredibly important to connect people with the magic of a light pollution-free sky,” said Foott. “We have seen that local efforts to protect the night are the most effective and powerful way to reduce light pollution and build local coalitions of dark sky advocates. We are so grateful for the efforts of the Dark Sky Land team to raise awareness about the benefits of dark sky conservation.”
Presented in collaboration with Magnetic Laboratorium, Dark Sky Land is co-curated by Catherine De Maria and Marisela La Grave, and runs through June 17th. The exhibit is open for viewing May 6 through 7 from 11am to 4pm, or by appointment at 575-517-0669. A full list of featured photographers and additional information is available on the Warehouse 1-10 website at https://www.warehouse110.com. For more information about the Dark Sky Land movement, visit https://darkskylandfilm.com/.
Foott’s full series of photos, shot in collaboration with NRAO and VLA staff, is being released throughout 2023 at https://public.nrao.edu and on NRAO’s social media.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a major facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.
Amy C. Oliver
Public Information & News Manager
National Radio Astronomy Observatory