Walking among giant antennas: Very Large Array (VLA) Tour

Magdalena Travel Blog

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VLA
As part of the Synthesis Imaging Workshop at New Mexico Tech, we were given the option of taking a tour of the VLA.  You may be familiar with the VLA from the movie 'Contact', as the site where Jodi Foster's character is 'listening' to the radio waves being detected by the interferometer. 

In reality, no astronomer would ever listen to this data, it does not make sense to do so...but in any case, the VLA is the site featured in the film, and also the site of much valuable radio astronomy that has been accomplished to date!

The VLA site is approximately an hour drive away from New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro, NM.  The nearest town is called Magdalena, which is why I chose it for the location.
Walking to our dish.
..however, the VLA really is out in the middle of the desert.  There is a visitor center with a small museum and gift shop.  The museum hosts a brief but very informative and relevant history of radio astronomy and where the VLA fits into that.  A self-guided tour starts from the gift shop, for those who are not lucky enough to arrange for a guided tour.

We were lucky enough to be able to climb into the antenna dishes; our first stop of the tour.  The height yielded a beautiful view of the Array, and a unique perspective into the receivers and equipment, much of which was housed in the antenna receiver cabins below the dish. 

We toured the correlator and IF/LO rooms as well.  I will spare you the technical details on what this stuff is about, and suffice it to say that it met my needs as far as my inner geek is concerned.
Antenna Transporters.


A new project called ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is being tested at the VLA site.  The full array is being built in the Atacama Desert in Chile, but there are two test antennas at the VLA that we were able to check out.  They have a mini-correlator set up and have been successful in their tests so far. 

Among frolicking jack rabbits, we walked out to see the antenna transporters.  That's right, these devices actually lift up the gargantuan antennas and move them on tracks.  The array is expandable this way to accomodate different resolution requested by the astronomers who use the array. 

For more info,
http://www.nrao.edu

All content and photographs copyright 2008 Erin Brassfield
alyssa_ob says:
Cool! I didn't know they had guided tours! Was it part of a school tour or do they just have the tours in summer for anyone?
Posted on: Jul 10, 2008
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VLA
VLA
Walking to our dish.
Walking to our dish.
Antenna Transporters.
Antenna Transporters.
Rebellious tourist.
Rebellious tourist.
We got to explore antenna # 19!!
We got to explore antenna # 19!!
Our tour bus!
Our tour bus!
VLA from the bus.
VLA from the bus.
Elevation track.
Elevation track.
The floor we walked on...
The floor we walked on...
Feed horns in the receiver cabin.
Feed horns in the receiver cabin.
Large feed horn & receiver
Large feed horn & receiver
Receiver at the base of the feed h…
Receiver at the base of the feed …
Feed horns in the dish leading to …
Feed horns in the dish leading to…
Secondary mirror
Secondary mirror
Secondary Mirror
Secondary Mirror
My colleagues from Cambridge, Mass.
My colleagues from Cambridge, Mass.
Tops of the feed horns in the dish.
Tops of the feed horns in the dish.
Me in the VLA antenna dish!  Photo…
Me in the VLA antenna dish! Phot…
VLA
VLA
VLA
VLA
My co-worker Ryan in the antenna d…
My co-worker Ryan in the antenna …
Antenna explorers!
Antenna explorers!
Somewhere inside...
Somewhere inside...
ALMA prototype with VLA background
ALMA prototype with VLA background
ALMA prototype drive chain.
ALMA prototype drive chain.
The clouds rolled in during the af…
The clouds rolled in during the a…
Silly wabbit!
Silly wabbit!
I have no idea what this was doing…
I have no idea what this was doin…
Antenna Transporter 2
Antenna Transporter 2
Antenna Transporter 1 (they have f…
Antenna Transporter 1 (they have …
VLA
VLA
VLA
VLA
Newly fitted with eVLA specs.
Newly fitted with eVLA specs.
Magdalena
photo by: aerynn