2011 Very Large Array
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The Very Large Array is a radio telescope operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and located on a plateau about 60 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico on U.S. 60.  We passed by on our way from Flagstaff to Las Cruces this year, just as we did in 2004 and 2008.  In 2004 we were on our way from Las Cruces to Flagstaff (but the visit experience turns out to be the same either way!).

This year's visit was different from the previous two in that we happened to be there on one of the two days each year that the site is actually staffed for visitors.  They do this on the first Saturday in April and the first Saturday in October each year.  Our previous two visits were on weekdays, but this time our schedule happened to have us passing by on April 2, 2011, the first Saturday in April this year.

On visits on any other but the two open house days, the visitor center is not staffed except for someone to run the gift shop.  The site is so remote that there are not many visitors at any one time, and maintaining a visitor center staff is apparently not cost-effective.  There are displays in the visitor center as well as a self-guided walking tour that takes you near one of the satellite dishes as well as past some of the laboratory buildings, but you don't see anything of consequence in the buildings, and you don't see any humans.

But for the Open House, they throw open the buildings, and staffers are available to show you around and explain what's going on.  It was also considerably more crowded than on either of our previous visits.

 

 

 

The view in the distance behind the sign is pretty much what you see of the radio telescopes themselves.  They're mobile and spread out along railroad tracks in three directions, forming the letter "Y."  We're at 7,000 feet elevation here, and the plain stretches out for many miles making the dishes easy to see from a long way off.
     
 

Sign on the visitor center in 2004.   A similar vantage point in 2008.  It's been cleaned up.
     

The sign again in 2011.  I keep taking a picture of it.  Note how the bushes have grown over the years.  In the 2004 photo, two full rows of bricks are visible below the word "CENTER" and above the shrubbery.  In the '08 photo, the bushes come right up to the bottom of the word "Center."  This year, the bushes actually obscure a bit of the letters N and T in the word "Center."  At this rate, if no action is taken, by about 2030, the words "CENTER" and "ARRAY" will be completely obscured!
     
     
 

Another view of those "in the distance" telescope dishes.  Note the very photogenic sky.  It was a warm (70 degrees F) but windy day for our visit.

 

A group of mostly Ohio University students (except for that lady on the far left) taking in the view.

 
 
 

Information plaque describing the antennas.

 

Reading the information plaques.  They're of no use if you don't read them.

     
     

 

Note all the people gathered around the base of one of the dishes.  The VLA people were operating the pointing mechanism for the dish, slewing it around in all directions to give an idea of how easily and quickly it can be pointed in any direction.

 

The dish has been oriented so that you can see inside it.  I'm not sure what the point of the hands in the air is.  That same lady who was at the left in the photo two above this one is in this one again, at the right.  I'm not sure what to make of this, either.