Monday, April 30, 2012

The Very Large Array

A couple months ago when I was on my way to Tucson, I stopped overnight at Socorro, New Mexico.  Some 50 miles/80 kms. northwest of there, along Hwy 60, is the Very Large Array....

of radio telescopes, that is.

Dedicated in 1980, the Very Large Array (VLA) has been an extraordinarily productive scientific instrument. Astronomers from around the world use it to study objects from our Solar System to the edges of the known Universe, billions of light-years from the Earth.

The telescope array consists of twenty-seven, 230-ton, 25-meter diameter dish antennas.  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. For more information, see our overview of the VLA. The array is currently in the D configuration.

The VLA has made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way's center, probed the Universe's cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.

The VLA is now being transformed into a new research instrument: the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA). By 2012, new state-of-the-art electronics and software will have completely transformed the VLA into the EVLA, a much more capable research tool with more than ten times the VLA's sensitivity. Reinvigorated by new technologies, the EVLA will push the frontiers of science and knowledge for decades to come.

The VLA is located on the Plains of San Agustin, the site chosen because of the isolated location away from large population centers, and the partial shielding effect of the surrounding mountain ranges.

Geologically, the Plains of San Agustin lie within the Mogollon-Datil volcanic field, just south of the southeast edge of the Colorado Plateau, and west of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The basin is a graben (a downdropped block which subsided between parallel faults). The graben is younger than the Datil-Mogollon volcanic eruptions. The flat floor of the plains was created by a Pleistocene lake (Lake San Agustin). Although the graben has dropped an estimated 4,000 ft., the surface relief has been reduced to about 2,000 ft. by sedimentation. A great deal of the sediments entered the San Agustin basin prior to the formation of Lake San Agustin in the last glacial period. There is no evidence of tectonic activity in the area after Lake San Agustin became extinct.

The edges of the plains have sites of archaeological interest such as a prehistoric rockshelter known as Bat Cave.

Other sites in the area include a ghost town called Old Horse Springs and the Ake Site, a prehistoric occupation site. 

And, wow, was it ever windy the morning I visited the VLA and drove through the Plains of San Agustin!  Too windy (and cold) to do the walking tour at the VLA - another time.....I will return. 

No, the VLA is not involved in SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  But, at least one UFO researcher believes the Plains of San Agustin was a site of a UFO crash in 1974, but then this IS New Mexico and everything in southern New Mexico seems to be space-related.  I love it.

I lifted all of the above information directly from some of the websites listed below:

Official site of the VLA:


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Since it's, as of August, on the way to visit the grandkids in Arizona we'll have to stop and take a look... ;)