Friday, May 16, 2008

A Palpable Silence: The VLA

Photo: Matthew L. Abbondanzio. Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA) is located 50 miles west of Socorro, NM on the Plains of San Agustin. The array consists of twenty-seven 230-ton radio antennas that move together in a Y-shaped configuration to track a single point in space. According to the VLA website, 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.
Twilight: Photographer Dave Finley
Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

From the NRAO’s page on How Radio Telescopes Work: Radio telescopes are used to study naturally occurring radio emission from stars, galaxies, quasars, and other astronomical objects between wavelengths of about 10 meters (30 megahertz [MHz]) and 1 millimeter (300 gigahertz [GHz]).

The Plains of San Agustin are another of New Mexico’s great silent places--places of hot sunshine and incredible thunderstorms. While on the road to the VLA one summer day I kept an eye on an approaching storm off to the left of the road. It swept down a hill just as the car passed by and thunderously arrived to block out the sun. It was as violent a storm as I’ve ever driven through but, when it passed, after a few minutes the plains were sunny and silent once again.

To see a video, NRAO Very Large Array, with a really cute little kid guide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RokSwMS4BiU

~All images courtesy of NRAO/AUI and in compliance with their image use policy

1 comment:

Erikka said...

this must be the place Jodi Foster went to in that movie where she is trying to make out that emission from space...you know...that one....aha! I like Google sometimes - CONTACT.