Eyes to the Heavens – The Very Large Array, NM

“Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” Socrates

The stunning VLA, antennas and transort arms

Socrates certainly had a way with words and he was a smart, old cookie too. The earth is but a youngster in the grand scheme of things, and only through the study of the heavens can we truly probe the past. In the deep recesses of the universe lie clues from over 10 billion years ago, and those pieces of knowledge are just reaching us today on the wings of light.

Paul poses in front of one of the massive 230-ton antennas

Oh yeah, Astronomy is super-nerdy-cool stuff and the Very Large Array takes you right into the middle of it. I’ve wanted to visit this place ever since I saw the movie “Contact“, and I can tell you the real thing is even sweeter than the film. The Array sits in the plains of San Agustin ~50 miles West of Socorro, NM. Follow the long, lonely road over the hills and into the wild and you’ll just about be here. It’s the perfect spot for inter-galactic radio-astronomy -> remote, quiet and flat. Sprawled across this deserted high-desert basin are 27 massive 230-ton radio antennas, each  25 meters (82 feet) in diameter arranged in an enormous Y-shape. It’s a stunning view when you first see it, and you can’t help but be swept away by the colossal scope of it all.

Follow the lonely road into the wild

The scientific beauty of the array is that the antennas act as one. By combining data from many, you create a radio image with the same sensitivity as a single dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter (and that, my friends, would be a honking great big monster of a dish). The antennas can also be zoomed in and out, like a great big camera lens, by transporting them along the 21 km (13 mile) arms of the Y, thus giving pictures with different levels of resolution.

Paul is dwarfed by the antenna

And if that wasn’t cool enough, there’s more. The antennas at the VLA are just one arm of the even more massive VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) which spans 5,000 miles from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands. This monstrous combo produces the best resolution of any telescope on earth or in space, and a whole new meaning to the term “supersize-me”.

A visit to NRAO VLA will take a cool hour and, if you’re lucky, you might even meet one or two other folks out there. This is the place where the world ends and science begins, taking you off to black holes, far-away galaxies and the beginnings of time. Super-cool-nerdy stuff indeed!

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

    • libertatemamo says

      It is so much fun to see. Definitely worth a stop, and there’s an awesome $5/night campground close by. I’ll be writing it up in the blog shortly.

  1. says

    When I was in Los Alamos, I got stopped at a check point. I asked the guard what the check point was for and he wouldn’t answer. There was a road that just “ended”. I was passing streets and buildings and my GPS was showing “blanks” as if I were in the middle of the desert.

    I saw some strange looking things in Idaho. I took pictures because they were so odd looking-I had gone off the beaten path-never found out what they were. doo doo doo doo

    • libertatemamo says

      A 4-wheeler would be just the thing, I agree! Our little CR-V can get alot of spots, but it can’t replace a jeep. Will have to come back and explore when we’ve got high-clearance.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh, thank you!! I just sent them a message on their blog.
      Always love meeting up w/ folks on the road.

  2. Roxanne says

    Neat! I’ll be looking for your campsite review.

    I have some young friends near this array, and one will be an excuse to visit the other.

    You’ve talked about the super-cheap and nice (Elephant Butt!) NM state parks with the pass. Are there many boondocking sites, too?

    That Elephant Butt is a butte!

    • libertatemamo says

      Review-a-coming! We stayed at Datil Well ($5/night) and it was just lovely.

      As for Elephant Butte there are boondocking sites there, but I’m not sure about policy/costs. You can camp anywhere along the banks and there are several dirt roads leading down, but don’t known if it’s free.

  3. says

    Funny – this place is on my list for two reasons – one is also the movie contact. The other is from the first teacher that ever made me love science (no easy feat after HS trauma of biology)- -My astronomy teacher at Towson University. Not sure if it was because he was so passionate about the skies, or if he reminded me of my grandpa but I’ve been hooked on the stars since then – great shots & write up! :)

  4. says

    Paul is so jealous that you two are enjoying this place. We were right there and didn’t make to the Very Large Array. We both really enjoyed this post. Thanks…you two do an excellent job!

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh you must come back then..No other way round it :) Glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. Jo Lewis says

    We seem to be following behind you. We are at Rock Hound St. Park, NM. May 20 we will head to City of Rocks St. Park and then on to Datil. Your info is so helpful. Thanks

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh, how fabulous!! Lovely to “meet” you guys on the blog. We’re going to be hanging around
      Northern NM for probably another month before we head into CO, so if you guys get
      close lemme know and we’ll hook up.
      By the way, do check ahead for Park/Forest closures. We just got notice this AM of
      Manzano Mountains Closure (incl. the surrounding forest) because of fire danger.
      Don’t know how many other areas are affected, but quite a few of the southern forests
      in NM are now closed.


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