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Very Large Array is a collection of radio telescopes.


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Very Large Array is a radio astronomy observatory located on the Plains of San Augustin, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, some fifty miles (80 km) west of Socorro, New Mexico, USA. U.S. Route 60 passes through the Very Large Array complex. The Very Large Array stands at an altitude of 6970 ft (2124 m) above sea level. Very Large Array is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

Characteristics of the Very Large Array.

Very Large Array.
Very Large Array.
Organization: National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Location: Socorro, New Mexico, USA
Coordinates: 3404'43.497?N, 10737'03.819?W
Altitude: 2124 m (6970 ft)
wavelength: radio
Diameter: 27 x 25m
Angular resolution: 0.05 to 700 arcsec

The Very Large Array observatory consists of 27 independent radio antennae, each of which has a dish diameter of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs 209 metric tonnes (230 tons).

The antennas are arrayed along the three arms of a Y-shape (each of which measures 21 km/13 miles long). Using the railroad tracks that follow each of these arms - and that, at one point, intersect with U.S. Route 60 at a level crossing - and a specially designed lifting locomotive, the antennas can be physically relocated to a number of prepared positions, allowing Aperture synthesis interferometry with a maximum baseline of 36 km (22.3 miles): essentially, the array acts like a single antenna with that diameter. The smallest angular resolution that can be reached is about 0.05 arcseconds.

Very Large Array.
Very Large Array: Detail of one dish.

There are four commonly used configurations, designated A (the largest) through D (the tightest, when all the dishes are within 600 m of the center point). The observatory normally cycles through all the various possible configurations (including several hybrids) every 16 months: in other words, once the massive efforts needed to move two dozen 230-ton highly sensitive scientific instruments have been made, the antennas are not moved again for a period of three to four months. Moves to smaller configurations are done in two stages, first shortening the east and west arms and later shortening the north arm. This allows for a short period of improved imaging of extremely northerly or southerly sources.

The Array Operations Center (AOC) for the Very Large Array is located on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro. The AOC also currently serves as the control center for the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a VLBI array of ten 25-meter dishes located from Hawai'i in the west to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the east that constitutes the world's largest dedicated, full-time astronomical instrument.

Key science to the Very Large Array.

The Very Large Array is a multi-purpose instrument designed to allow investigations of many astronomical topics. Objects that are commonly studied include radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernova remnants, Gamma ray bursts, radio-emitting stars, the Sun and planets, astrophysical masers, black holes, and the Hydrogen gas that comprises a large portion of the Milky Way galaxy as well as external galaxies. In 1989 the Very Large Array was used to receive radio communications from the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew by Neptune.

Past and future of the Very Large Array.

Very Large Array.
Antenna Assembly Building at Very Large Array.

Congressional approval for the Very Large Array project was given in August 1972, and construction began some six months later. The first antenna was put into place in September 1975 and the complex was formally inaugurated in 1980, after a total investment of USD $78.5 million.

With a view to upgrading the venerable 1970s technology with which the Very Large Array was built, recent funding has been allocated for the conversion of the Very Large Array into the Expanded Very Large Array ("EVLA"). The upgrade will enhance the instrument's sensitivity, frequency range, and resolution, and will install new hardware at the San Agustin site. A second phase of this upgrade to add up to eight additional dishes in other parts of the state of New Mexico, up to 300 km away, is currently unfunded.

Pop culture of the Very Large Array.

Very Large Array.
Very Large Array.

The Very Large Array is the setting of the beginning of Arthur C. Clarke's novel/film 2010: Odyssey Two [1982].

The Very Large Array also featured prominently in Carl Sagan's science documentary Cosmos and 1985 novel/film Contact, albeit expanded to 131 dishes and renamed the "Argus Array." When the time came for Hollywood to make the motion picture version (Contact, 1997), much of the outdoor footage was shot at the VLA site. The number of dishes visible on screen was artificially increased by means of CGI, however, and the canyon depicted as being in the vicinity of the Very Large Array is actually Canyon de Chelly in neighboring Arizona.

In the 1996 film Independence Day the alien invaders were initially detected by SETI at the Very Large Array.

New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi shot the music video for "Everyday", at the VLA. This was the first single and music video from the band's Island Records album, Bounce, released on October 8, 2002 in the U.S.

The cover for the Dire Straits album On The Night features the VLA.

The Very Large Array can be visited in Auto Assault, a massively multiplayer online game set in post-apocalyptic America.

Matt Harding can be seen dancing at Very Large Array in his second video.

Visiting the Very Large Array.

Very Large Array.
Very Large Array radio telescopes.

The Very Large Array site is open to visitors year round during daylight hours. A visitor center houses a museum and a gift shop. A self-guided walking tour is available, as the visitor center is not staffed continuously. Visitors unfamiliar with the area are warned that there is little food onsite, or in the sparsely populated surroundings; those unfamiliar with the high desert are warned that the weather is quite variable, and can remain cold into April.

Why not also search for...

  • Very Long Baseline Interferometry.
  • List of radio telescopes.
  • The Very Small Array.
  • The VLA was once used for following up the Wow! signal from the SETI project.
  • British artist Keith Tyson made an epic 300 piece sculpture called Large Field Array named after the VLA.
  • Magdalena Ridge Observatory is a new observatory under construction a few miles South of the VLA includes an optical interferometer and is also ran by VLA collaborator New Mexico Tech.



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