New Mexico’s Very Large Array (VLA)

This is the Very Large Array.

DSC 0118 2 e1331625427639 New Mexicos Very Large Array (VLA)

VLA and the Plains of San Augustin

That, as opposed to the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, which must be bigger than the Very Large Array, or the European Extremely Large Telescope which must be huge because it is “extremely” …but you don’t really know if it is

Certainly it is smaller than “Overwhelmingly Large” – because overwhelming is well, overwhelming.

OLT? EELT? Sheesh.

And the EVLA?  Wait for it.

For now, lets stick with VLA.
Heading west from Socorro, New Mexico on NM state highway 60, you enter great tablelands that break to rolling,

grassy plains spotted with small mesas and clusters of pines and spruce (MAP).

Fifty miles (80km) later you turn South on NM 52 into the vast Plains of San Augustin, a 55 mile (88 km) long graben bordered by the rugged Black Range and right up on the southeast edge of the

Colorado Plateau. and then west on the well-marked VLA access road which will point you to the Visitor Center – which has been closed just about every time I go there.

That might be because I tend to go at dusk, for the perfect picture-taking light.  The other thing is, whenever I’ve gone

there, there has not been another soul around.

And I like that.

DSC 0175 1 e1331625740547 New Mexicos Very Large Array (VLA)

VLA and the Plains of San Augustin

Last time I was there I sat peacefully on the top of my car as the light faded. The wind skitted past bringing the purest of air. The type of air that is just plain nice to suck into your lungs.  I sipped at a beer and snapped new shots every time the light changed – which was about every 15-30 seconds.

This is one of those places where the technology and science of the modern world compliment the beauty of an ancient landscape.

The VLA is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Since the 1950s,

 

DSC 0161 2 e1331625686366 New Mexicos Very Large Array (VLA)

VLA and a mid-March Sunset

the NRAO has provided the international scientific community state-of-the-art radio telescope facilities regardless of institutional or national affiliation. I love that part of it. Astronomers have to be qualified and must compete for observing time on the telescopes by submitting research proposals to an evaluation panel. The NRAO also provides educational and public outreach for teachers, students, the general public, and the media. The NRAO brings valuable
The VLA is just one program of the NRAO that can look to the very edges of the universe, billions of light years away.science to all parts of our society.

The VLA consists of twenty-seven gigantic dish antennas each weighing in at 230-tons.  These antennas with their 25-meter diameter dishes together comprise a single radio telescope system that has looked into black holes, found the most distant water ever seen, made vital observations of proto-planetary disks and analyzed loops of hot plasma on the sun among other brilliant findings.

 

The NRO Says:

The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter.

Currently the VLA is being upgraded to dramatically increase its sensitivity and capabilities.  That means that by the end of 2012 we get the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) – which while enormous still isn’t overwhelming.

But damn if it isn’t beautiful.

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If You Visit:

How to Get There

The VLA is located in he middle of nowhere just 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico on U.S. Highway 60. From U.S.  DSC 0132 1 e1331625661186 New Mexicos Very Large Array (VLA)60, turn South on NM 52, then West on the VLA access road, which is well marked. Signs will point you to the VisitorMap

                                                            Programs

Every first Saturday of each month from 11:00AM – 3:00 PM the VLA hosts public tours that include hands-on, family friendly activites related to a monthly theme.  The event culminates in an evening Guided Night Sky Star Gazing at the Etscorn Observatory on the Campus of NM Tech in Socorro. The night time event begins at dark and lasts two hours, weather permitting. Contact

Judy Stanley at 575-835-7243 for more information.

 

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3 Responses to New Mexico’s Very Large Array (VLA)

  1. John Mata February 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Great shots, and not a bad read either. It's amazing to think that the entire array is used as a single instrument. This device has been a major tool for science in the discovery of black holes within our very own Milky Way! Sitting there with your beer and your camera, gazing across such a massive spectacle, all the while dwarfed by the untainted space around it; how could you think about anything else?

    • Jim O'Donnell December 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      I"m ready for a trip back to the VLA. I'd like to see if they'd let me sleep out there…..

  2. Matthew S. Urdan February 6, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Can’t believe you didn’t mention the movie Contact. I was at the VLA in 2009. There’s a whole section inside the visitor center dedicated to the movie. Great shots. I’m really loving your site and discovering a kindred spirit. Serendipity was good to me today. :)

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