Very Large Array
Magdalena Travel Blog› entry 6 of 6 › view all entries
Since I left my canyon I needed to find something else to do rather than sit in a motel until I head home. My parents told me about some places to see in Albuquerque but I'm not really a city person. I don't like dealing with lots of people and traffic and parking and so on. I would rather do something outside, and (yikes) maybe even educational. Another site I could see near Socorro was the the Trinity Site where they tested the first atomic bomb. That could be interesting, except there isn't anything to see and the actual site is only open to the public two days a year (and it was not today).
The VLA is comprised of 27 radio antennas in a "Y" pattern with each arm 13 miles (21 km) long! The individual antennas have a diameter of 82 feet and the inner volume of the dish would hold something like two average sized homes. The antennas work together to create images of space from radio waves as short as 0.7 cm!. At least I think that's impressive, I really don't understand astronomy all that well. The antennas can move on tracks to increase or decrease the effective diameter of the antenna to create images with more or less resolution (similar to a zoom lens on your camera). The VLA visitor center has a little exhibit with more information on the antennas and how they work together, as well as a video and lots of images of distant galaxies, quasars, black holes, stars, and other things I've never heard of.
The VLA is located here because it is higher in elevation and sort of surrounded by mountains, creating a basin that is protected from interference of radio waves. Your cell phone probably won't work here.
Overall, this was a sort of interesting stop, it was neat to see, but a bit hard to understand. You have to be really interested in astronomy to get the most out of this. It was interesting and "dummed" down to the common person, but it was still a little overwhelming. A family with kids were there at the same time and the kids were fastinated by the images and the antennas, so maybe it would be a good stop for kids. The only down side is that it is pretty far out of the way from anything.
If you want to know more, check out the National Radio Astronomy Observatory website. They have lots of images you can view and download. Some of their radio images are shown below in my photos. Those photos are courtesy of the NRAO and also list individual credits for some copyrighted photos.