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Looking at Outer Space, Very Large Array,VLA, New Mexico~Radio Astronomy

Updated on September 20, 2012



VLA In New Mexico ~ Radio Astronomy~Very Large Array

     First things first, VLA, stands for Very Large Array.

     The VLA is an interferometer which means it collects data, in this case 27 antennas/dishes collect the data from the sky, and the scientists extrapolate the data into information.


     Okay, the VLA is on the vast empty plains of San Agustin west of Socorro, NM. It is made up of 27 huge antennas (look like dishes) that are on tracks that go for 13 miles in a 'Y' formation.

     Each of the dishes/antennas, are roughly the size of a baseball diamond (81'), weigh in at 200 tons, and dwarf an 18-wheeler semi when the semi is parked next to it. (We saw this once when we were taking company to see the VLA.) The dishes move (very slowly) on the tracks and rotate to face various areas depending on the project the scientists are working on. The scientists work with other Radio Astronomy Observatories through-out the world. There are ten of these USA antenna/dish locations in the USA from New Mexico, the Virgin Islands to Hawaii. ALL of the antennas can work in tandem to effectively create the ability of one HUGE dish/antenna the size of, well nearly the whole USA!

     The newest National Radio Astronomy Observatory, ALMA, Atacama Large Millmeter/submillimeter Array is at an elevation of 16,400 feet in the Llano de Chanjantor in northern Chile. It is a cooperative endeavor.

     The scientists at the VLA study cosmology, the formation of galaxies, the birth of new stars, planets, the Sun, comets, and asteroids. The higher in elevation these installations are, the less interference there is from man made radio waves (and anything else man made) that could interfere with the ability of the antennas/dishes to collect clean data.

     Did you ever wonder why Sun Spots cause interference in radio transmissions etc.? Well, the Sun spots ARE radio transmissions of a kind. This is what happens when you actually READ the stuff in a museum.

     The information is carried on fiber optics. Fiber optics can transmit all of War in Peace, many times a second. The VLA is endeavoring to upgrade the facility to be 100 times faster with more frequency and 50 times better at details.

     Our community is upgrading a traffic intersection to include stop lights that use fiber optics. Fiber optics are a nice neighborhood upgrade. They provide quality media service to homes and businesses. I would like faster Internet as provided by fiber optics.

     Remember this is radio astronomy. Radio astronomy began in 1932 at Bell Labs. Karl Jansky, physicist, detected cosmic noise from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy while looking into sound disturbances on the transoceanic telephone service.

     The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) started in 1956. No one university or college could afford to maintain such a facility of equipment individually. The NRAO has grown to be a premier astronomical observatory through-out the world.

     Here is the web site for more information directly from the scientists. On Saturdays there are tours usually conducted by interns. These ladies and gentlemen are very excited and pleased to be there and give excellent tours. They are even tolerant of the most basic and uninformed questions, I know, because that is what I can ask.

    Now, if all of this looks vaguely familiar, and you wonder why, it is because the VLA has been filmed by various media.

  • Contact in 1997 with Jody Foster
  • Bon Jovi's, Everyday music video
  • Independence Day with Will Smith, the opening sequence
  • The Arrival the final scene
  • Terminator Salvation where the humans are tested
  • 2010, the 1984 film, the beginning of the film
  • Carl Sagan's Cosmos a Personal Journey Documentary, in 1980

     The Visitor's Center has a great introductory film, a nice but small museum with a great deal of information, and a walking path within the facility. The center is open until sunset most days. Do check the web site for any updates on the hours.

     Oh, in keeping with the theme, there is a great smashed-home-made-hamburger diner in the town of Magadalena just to the east of the VLA. Do be aware that such places in small little towns like this are only open limited hours. This one closes in the afternoon and re-opens for an evening meal.

     You will get a New Mexico Green Chilé Hamburger, won't you?


VLA is worth the drive

A markerVLA New Mexico -
National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array, New Mexico 87825, USA
get directions


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    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks...and congrats to you too!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      I learned something new, thanks! I never knew that this existed. Congrats on your nomination.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      It is indeed interesting :) I would love to see it too.

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! Be sure to read and vote okay?

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks..nope, we just take visitors there because it is so interesting.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I've seen this VLA on the news, not so much in the movies. Do you or a member of your immeadiate family work there? If I was fascinated by astronomy I would want to work at someplace like that. Congratulations on your hubnugget nomination.

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks Simone.....VLA is not very easy to get it must be a destination but it IS something to see. The Interns giving the tours are just giddy to be there!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      This is so neat! I had never realized that thing I'd seen in so many movies was a VLA... or what VLA stood for. Awesome Hub!

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      There seems to be some confusion regarding the SETI project and the VLA. The VLA has made money from SETI but is not a SETI project.

      Actually, SETI is privately funded and while SETI has purchased some time/use on projects such as VLA; The VLA is not a SETI project.

      I was sure that I remembered that from the readings in the Museum at the VLA, however, here is the website with the question answered:

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 6 years ago from West Coast

      I do believe that these are, if not the same then similar in form and function to the S.E.T.I. project dishes, and as I understand it, they were not the only ones using these arrays. S.E.T.I. if it still exists at all is funded by private donations. So, I do stand by my first comment. They also used Arecibo and others.

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks Hedy C!!!

    • profile image

      Hedy C 6 years ago

      I recently visited the VLA & found it to be very intriguing & interesting! Thanks for all the info on it.

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      I do know that the Hubble and VLA have exchanged findings and worked together. However, that is the only depth of understanding that I have. The web site is informative and I think you can ask an actual scientist from the web site.

      Thanks for reading!

    • kd4rvb profile image

      kd4rvb 6 years ago from Titusville, FL

      Interesting information, I wonder how the data taken from the VLA compares to what is seen via the Hubble, I realize the perspective is different but they do look the same directions on occasion. Has data from the Hubble been able to validate data from the VLA? I wonder.

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      FYI Dude: VLA is not a SETI project. They would help if asked but are NOT looking for contact from space aliens.

      not the purpose of the VLA.

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 6 years ago from West Coast

      The S.E.T.I. project also used these arrays, as shown in the movie "Contact" starring Jodi Foster. With the total loss of funding that the project experienced (Hard to justify tax dollars with no results over a thirty year search) I don't think they are terribly high on the user list anymore. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence continues!

    • profile image

      sdzulu 6 years ago

      New Mexico certainly has some interesting sights.