Kuiper poses with a row of VLA antennas.

The (dog friendly!) Very Large Array

Kuiper searches for intelligent life at the Very Large Array.

On this day in 1975, the very first antenna of the VLA was put into place 50 miles (80 km) west of Socorro, New Mexico. This radio observatory is open to the public during the day, and is dog friendly!

Pets are allowed in public areas of the visitor center as well as on outdoor, self-guided tours. Note: During your visit, you’ll need to put all electronic devices in airplane mode AND turn them off (it’s ok to then turn them on super briefly to take pictures.)

Kuiper particularly enjoyed watching the Jodie Foster-narrated “Beyond the Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array” video in the visitor center. The 24 minute documentary can be found here.

Each of the dishes behind Kuiper is 94 feet (28.7 m) tall, 82 feet (25 m) wide and weighs 230 tons. The VLA has 28 antennas (27 active and 1 spare.) Why so many, and why so large?

The VLA captures (naturally occurring) radio waves, which have very, very longthy wavelengths compared to visible light. Therefore, we need a very, very longthy telescope. (Compared with “optical” telescopes, radio telescopes give us a much better look at objects that are really far away.)

Since it’s not practical to build a single dish that’s miles wide, we use multiple dishes as an “interferometer.” That means that that we take measurements from several antennas and see how they overlap. It’s a little bit like having depth perception with 2 eyes; we can more accurately pinpoint where an object is, how far away it is, and how many objects there are by using multiple antennas. We also get much clearer pictures by using multiple “eyes.”

The VLA has made a lot of really neat discoveries both near and far. Here’s just one: in 1991, they teamed up with Goldstone Observatory in California to map a previously unimaged side of Mercury. With Goldstone transmitting radio waves and the VLA receiving them, they radared Mercury and discovered water ice! How cool is that!

The array got a huge upgrade less than a decade ago, and is still cranking out tons and tons of scientific discoveries. If you get the chance to see it in person, we HIGHLY recommend!

Original post: https://www.instagram.com/p/B2vCTz-l_e3/

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