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The Very Large Array – New Mexico's Impressive Contribution to Space Science

This is the Very Large Array.
very large array
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 Very Large Array.
very large array
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.
very large array
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.
very large array
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, 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 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.
very large array
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.


If You Visit the Very Large Array:

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.  60, turn South on NM 52, then West on the VLA access road, which is well marked. Signs will point you to the VisitorMap


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 575-835-7243 for more information.

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