© Steve Russell

Fra Steve Russells tur langs Route66:

November 11 (2007)

Another beautiful day in New Mexico. My first stop was the Very Large Array, or VLA, as it is known in astronomy circles. It is the largest radio telescope in the world.

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It is made up of 27 independent radio dishes whose signals are combined to effectively make one very large antenna. The array is laid out in the shape of a Y, with each leg of the Y stretching out 13 miles from the center point. Each individual antenna is 94 feet high, weighs 235 tons, and the dish on each is 82 feet across. The antennas are moved on dual railroad tracks. They must be able to move for different purposes. For instance, for maximum sensitivity to interstellar radio signals, the dishes are all brought in close to the center. If resolution is more important, they are extended out as far as 13 miles from the center. There are several positions between maximum and minimum. It is a fairly involved and time-consuming process to move the array, so it stays in each of the positions for four months.


The science and computing power that goes into running this place is absolutely amazing. If it weren’t amazing enough, the VLA is being expanded to the EVLA (Expanded VLA) involving technology upgrades in dish hardware, fiber optics, and computing power, which will increase the capability by levels of magnitude.