Notes from the Field


July 13th, 2022 by Alex Haughton

Alex Haughton is a graduate student in the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department at University of Colorado Boulder studying ultraviolet instrumentation with sounding rockets. His team has traveled to Equatorial Launch Australia’s Arnhem Space Center near Nhulunbuy, Australia to launch the Dual-channel Extreme Ultraviolet Continuum Experiment (DEUCE) Sounding Rocket and observe the stars Alpha Centauri A & B in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

This is a story about the color red. Oh sure, there are sounding rockets; there are telescopes with new technology for ultraviolet astronomy; there is cool science on stellar atmospheres; there is a new spaceport built in collaboration with the Indigenous community; there is the cast of colorful characters that it takes to get space science done. First and foremost, however, is the prevalent red that claims everything in East Arnhem Land, the area we have come to for our rocket launch.

Some say red is simply the color of the dirt here, but they underestimate what they are dealing with. This is so much more than any dirt could be. This is red. Since our arrival a week ago, we are slowly turning into red. When I walk outside, whether I crunch on gravel or plunk through a puddle, my feet turn into red. I walk inside, bringing the red with me, and the floor is now red. We drive to and from Nhulunbuy, the town about 30 minutes from our camp at the Gulkula Cultural Center, and the beat-up 2WD Toyota Hilux we have fondly named “Twobacca” is red. I open and shut Twobacca’s doors and my hand is red, and whatever I touch next will turn into red.

When things are dry, red takes the form of a dust that fills the air. We breathe red. Lately, as East Arnhem does its best impression of Ray Bradybury’s “The Long Rain,” the dust is replaced by something best described as paint. The surface of the Earth is a completely sticky red that seeps under doorjams, coats your trousers, and even climbs the walls.

East Arnhem Land has many inhabitants – Yolngu people, miners, scientists come to launch rockets, crocodiles, spiders, snakes, wallabies, and other beasties. But here red rules over all.

One Response to “Red”

  1. Gerry Luhman says:

    Yes, resoundingly Yes. Red rules. Took our Prado five years for ‘The Red to be washed out of its inner parts!

    Go well and greatly appreciated. And, hi from the Glass House Mountains of Queensland!