I am a great fan of radio astronomy and have long dreamed of visiting the Very Large Array located about 50 miles west of Socorro, NM and featured in the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster. We arrive and discover a very well designed visitor center fully equipped with an extremely knowledgeable and informative gift shop attendant.
The antennas are arranged in a Y shape layout and luckily when we arrive they are still in the “D” (Darn Close) configuration. The 27 radio antennas are moved 4 times during the year through the “C”, “B”, and finally to the “A” (All the Way Out There) positions. In the “D” configuration the radio telescope array is 1 mile across and fairly close to the visitor center. Had we arrived when the array is in the “A” configuration, the maximum antenna separation is 22 miles and I would need an aerial photo to show you that!
Four times a year, a huge transporter moves each telescope to its new position via a set of railroad tracks on the property. I learn that a great time to visit this observatory is when the antennae are being moved from the “D” configuration outward especially if you can catch a move from “D” to “A.” The next antenna move is scheduled for the latter part of May (see the schedule here) so mark your calendars if you plan to be in the area.
For a great video on how the VLA works, click here to view the award winning VLA video.
For my probably mis-guided demonstration of how the visitor center’s Whisper Dish Array works, check out the video below.