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The Z Machine

Inside the Sandia National Laboratories research facility sits a machine of mind-boggling capacity: the Z Machine, the most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source in the world. Capable of creating conditions found nowhere else on Earth, the machine can produce the same dense plasma found in white dwarf stars.

When the switch is flipped, 20 million amps zap a target at the heart of the machine, striking it with more than 1,000 times  the electricity of a lightning bolt, at 20,000 times the speed.

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Looking beyond Earth, the research can also help us to better understand the universe. The Z Machine is being used to answer the question of how stars are formed, and what exactly is going on at their cores. The machine is also being used to study the X-ray spectra, research that is upending some long-held theories about the ions in the accretion discs of black holes.

Albuquerque’s Iconic Snowman

The city of Albuquerque is known for a lot of things, but the abundance snow is not one of them. So every year, to celebrate the holiday season, the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority builds an enormous snowman out of the city’s infamous tumbleweeds.

The tumbleweed snowman has been on display along the I-40 freeway every year since the 90’s, steadily getting bigger and bigger. The snowman’s tumbleweed bottom is 10 feet wide and he stands over 14 feet tall. It goes up the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving—which is called “Tumbleweed Tuesday” by the AMAFCA and several local news channels—and stays there greeting motorists until the first week of January.

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While the tumbleweed snowman may have started as a joke, the AMAFCA is dead serious about it now. Flood control employees begin looking for suitable tumbleweeds as early as August, and once the giant-sized bushes are selected, they are bolstered with rebar and welded to a stand to protect the snowman from the fierce winds that have occasionally taken him out. Then the whole thing is spray-painted white and adorned with an AMAFCA hat.

The Grave of Walter White

While most “Breaking Bad” tourism sites are locations where the hit television show was filmed, some fans also created their own monument to their favorite fallen chemistry teacher on the outskirts of the character’s hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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A mock funeral for the fictional meth-cooking star of Breaking Bad, Walter White, aka “Heisenberg” (played by actor Bryan Cranston) was held on October 19, 2013, shortly after the conclusion of the show. When the mourning procession placed a headstone at Albuquerque’s Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery, however, the relatives of the actual dead buried in the cemetery started to complain. Afterward, the grave was relocated to a strip mall where one of the fan funeral organizers owns a steakhouse.

The headstone avoids any direct mentions of Heisenberg’s criminal activities, only describing him as a “Beloved Husband, Father, Teacher, and Entrepreneur.” Another reference is found in the epitaph, which quotes from Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, the title and theme of the AMC series’ antepenultimate episode.

The Singing Highway

Most rumble strips alert drivers they’ve strayed too close to the edge of the road with a loud, grating vibration. The grooved lines on a sleepy stretch of Route 66 near Tijeras, New Mexico have a different trick up their sleeve: They sing.

On this quarter-mile section of the highway, the rumble strips have been engineered to sound like the song “America the Beautiful.” But they won’t croon their patriotic tune for anyone with a lead foot. Drivers have to be going exactly 45 miles per hour (the speed limit) to hear the vibrations in action.

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The “Musical Highway” was installed in 2014 as part of a partnership between the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Geographic Channel. It’s designed to encourage drivers on the otherwise unremarkable stretch of the historic road to slow down and adhere to the speed limit.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History was established by the United States Air Force in 1969 as a repository of information about the Atomic Age, from the early days of atomic weapons development through more modern, and peaceful, uses of nuclear technology.

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The museum presents, through a series of exhibits, displays, artifacts, and hands-on models, the history of nuclear energy research, biographies of the pioneers of the field, a look at life in Los Alamos during the days of the Manhattan Project, the effects of the Atomic Age on society and pop culture, the moral quandaries nuclear weapons can create, as well as a diverse array of other subjects ranging from nuclear waste disposal to the evolution of computers.

One of the most popular attractions of the museum is the five-acre outdoor Heritage Park, a sprawling exhibit of military aircraft, decommissioned rockets, missiles, cannons, and a nuclear sub sail. Heritage Park is the largest aircraft collection available for public viewing in the state of New Mexico and includes an M65 Atomic Cannon (nicknamed Atomic Annie and one of only eight on display worldwide) and a Nike Hercules Air Defense Missile.

American International Rattlesnake Museum

The Rattlesnake Museum is home to the most diverse collection of rattlesnakes in the world, with live displays of 34 different species. The museum also features rarities like albino snakes, a Gila Monster (which chews on its prey to inject as much poison into of the victim’s bloodstream as possible), a beautiful assortment of snake skeletons, and artifacts from snake appearances in pop culture.

But the museum doesn’t limit its selection to only natural exhibits. Numerous rare and intriguing works of art line the walls and display cases. Of particular note is the only watercolor of a rattlesnake by John J. Audubon, which illustrates the snake being attacked by a flock of birds. And a beautiful opium jar from 1910 is carved in the shape of a skull with a viper woven through the eye sockets to indicate poison.

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The gift shop features an array of charming gifts, as one might imagine of a snake museum. One highlight: snake fangs from the Gabon Viper, which boasts the longest fangs in the world, are available for individual purchase.