Gallery 1 - Astronomical   >   Observatories   >   The VLA (Very Large Array)

We have flown over the VLA in New Mexico on our many trips to Arizona to do astronomical imaging. The first time we saw the VLA, the array was configured very close together. We didn't see it right away beacuse of this tight configuration. The Y shaped array has 3 tracks, each 13 miles in length with 9 dishes along each track. We exclaimed "why do these railways tracks stop in the middle of nowhere?", then we followed along a track and realized they were part of the array. We still laugh about that.

The observatory is located 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, just beyond the mountain range in the distance. We have landed at the airport in Socorro for fuel and contrary to the popular movie 'Contact', there is no way a jet could land or take off at that tiny airport.

Each dish of the VLA is 25 meters in diameter and together they make a baseline of 22 miles, so the array acts as a single antenna up to 22 miles in diameter. Wow! No wonder it's so famous.

Here you can see one dish is in the Antenna Assembly Building for maintenance.

This image makes me think of 'Contact' one of our favourite movies. There is a line in the movie during the scenes with the VLA: "Your four are online, the rest are tracking in but there's a bad drive on 16" :-)

On another trip home from Arizona, our track took us across the VLA again. This time the dishes were set up in the wide configuration.

The observatory normally cycles through all the various possible configurations every 16 months. The antennas are moved every three to four months. The dishes can only be moved at very calm wind conditions due to their high center of gravity. Interesting place!