Friday, March 20, 2009
The Very Large Array
I had a great day today, the second day of my two-day Spring Break vacation. I left Albuquerque around 7:30 a.m. and drove to the Very Large Array (VLA). If you ever saw the movie Contact, you have had a peek at this amazing radio astronomy facility in New Mexico.
To get to the VLA from Albuquerque, I drove south on I-25 to Socorro, then took US-60 west, through Magdalena and up to the Plains of San Augustin, at 7,000-feet above sea level.
The VLA is made up of 27 dish antennas, each one 82-feet in diameter. The antennas are arrayed along three arms, which extend in a "Y" shape. Each of the arms is 13 miles long. A pair of railroad tracks extends along the arms, and a special, self-propelled transporter moves along these two rails to carry the antennas, when they need to be moved. When the array is reconfigured, it takes one or two weeks to move all of the antennas. They are moved every three or four months.
The 27 antennas work together to form a single, huge radio telescope. With it, astronomers study cosmic objects by means of radio waves, rather than light. The VLA is one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, and its combination of high resolution and high sensitivity make it possible to make detailed pictures of even very faint objects in the sky.
There is no cost for visiting the VLA. The visitor's center is a small building with some very interesting displays about the history and the science of the VLA. There are also some amazing astronomical pictures on display, that were composed using the radio waves gathered by the VLA. For 25 cents you can purchase a brochure to use on a self-guided walking tour of the facility. You can also go to the assembly building, where the dishes were first constructed and where repairs are made.
I have posted a few pictures from today's adventure in a viovio.com gallery. The first few pictures are from the drive down, and the last few are of the VLA, itself. You can view the pictures by clicking HERE. Because of the huge distances between the antennas, it is very difficult to capture what the eye actually sees.