There are so many amazing things to see here on Earth, whether natural or constructed, old or new. I always joke it will currently take me at least 7½ lifetimes to see and do everything on my Bucket List, and that’s growing every day.
So it’s hard to even conceive that our planet, which is home to us and all those incredible things, is little more than a pinhead, cosmically-speaking.
Manned spacecraft connect us physically to the universe immediately outside the tiny bubble of Earth’s atmosphere. Sadly, the closest I’ll ever get to this is witnessing one of the last Space Shuttle launches. Beyond that, we have to rely on unmanned probes. But even their range is extremely limited.
To Connect with the more distant Universe, we need telescopes, either optical or radio. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about my visit to the Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, the World’s largest single-dish radio telescope. At a staggering 1000 feet across, the Arecibo dish is undeniably huge.
But compared with the Very Large Array (VLA), the Arecibo dish is a mere infant. When linked together, the 27 dishes of the VLA have a maximum equivalent resolution of a single dish 22.6 miles across! Now that’s a Very Large Array!
Official renamed the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array in 2012, the VLA is owned and operated by the US’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). It was originally constructed between 1972 and 1980, but a major upgrade of its electronics was completed in 2011.
The VLA is located on the Plains of San Agustin in the high, dry desert of New Mexico. This flat, remote expanse of desert is surrounded by hills that significantly reduce Earth-originating radio wave pollution. In addition, the permanently Drought-like conditions in this area mean there are very few water molecules around to distort the cosmic radio waves being studied. All in all, this makes the Plains of San Agustin an almost ideal location for the Very Large Array.
Each of the VLA’s 28 individual antennas (27 in use and one spare at any given time) is 82 feet in diameter and weighs 230 tons. They are mounted on a Y-shaped network of tracks, which enables scientists to change the configuration of the array, depending on what they are studying.
The largest configuration has the dishes spread out over a 22.6-mile wide expanse of desert, while the smallest has them clustered into an area less than two-thirds of a mile across. This allows the VLA to act a bit like the radio telescope equivalent of a zoom lens. The closer together the individual antennas are arranged, the smaller and more detailed the field of view.
Discoveries made by astronomers using the Very Large Array include ice on Mercury and ‘supermassive black holes’ (which sound both impressive and very scary!). As such, the VLA really does help connect us with the very bones of the Universe.
While you’re wrapping your head around some of the VLA’s mind-blowing statistics, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?
And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!