Kuiper strikes a pose with the Bracewell Radio Sundial at the Very Large Array in New Mexico (DOG FRIENDLY ? outside)! Check out the heckin’ historic graffiti!
The pillars behind Kuiper each used to hold a 10-foot dish antenna. These were part of a 32-antenna radio telescope array at Stanford University. In 1961, Professor Ronald Bracewell and his team began spending 7 days a week using the array to make temperature maps of the Sun. ?️? They did this for a full “solar cycle,” which is 11 years!
The instrument was pretty darn fancy for its time. By 1969, it was hooked up to an electric typewriter that would automatically print ?️ the day’s solar map, as well as a teletype machine that would send the maps immediately to the military and to NASA. You can find out more technical details by Googling “Stanford microwave spectroheliograph.” ?
Perhaps most relevant to our interests is that NASA used the data from that telescope to predict the “solar weather” for the Apollo ? missions! Solar storms had the potential to give our astronauts a very bad day. ☢️ Not only can they cause radiation sickness, but they also have the potential to mess with communications and short-circuit electronics. That telescope helped keep our astronauts safe.
The telescope was decommissioned in the 80s, but parts of it were repurposed into this beautiful sundial as a memorial to Dr. Bracewell in 2012. The dial not only tells the time of day, but also the time of year, the locations of two galaxies and even tracks the remains of an exploded star!
We didn’t plan this intentionally, but we ended up here on the Fall Equinox; swipe to see a close-up of the Equinox marker as well as a view of the sundial’s shadow nearly on top of it.
The VLA was one of THE coolest stops on our ~12k mile road trip last year, and I highly recommend visiting. ??? Much more on it later. Also, unlike many of our visits where we get special permission in advance to bring Kuiper, well-behaved dogs on leash are welcome by default (outside) at VLA. Just remember to turn off your cell phone and other electronics while there for the sake of Science (ok to turn on briefly for pics. ✈️?)
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