I was extremely excited. I couldn’t sleep the night before. That happens to me often; excitement steals my precious shut eye. The night before any big event: vacation, Christmas Eve, etc. I lose what I value most…sleep. But it always works out because it means I have something exciting happening the next day. What kept me awake this time was my adventure to The Very Large Array. I had only seen these extremely ginormous satellite-type dishes in the movie Contact, with Jody Foster.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is a radio astronomy observatory located on the plains of San Agustin, just west of Magdalena, New Mexico. Astronomers use the VLA to study and make observations in space from black holes to young stars. The first Saturday of every month there is a behind-the-scenes tour of the VLA. What I was really hoping for was to hear a star! Stars make sound. This was news to me.
We left really early in the morning for the 3 hour drive to the VLA, to make our 10:00am tour. No problems getting there and in fact I saw a few different places that I want to go back and visit, when time permits; the Honey Factory, Socorro’s star gazing party, and of course FOOD! Green chile cheeseburgers are a favorite of mine and I have a personal goal to find the best in the state. There are a few listed as top burgers on this drive. MUST RETURN FOR FOOD!!!
We arrived safely to the VLA and hurriedly joined the tour. Our tour guide came in and started informing us of the amazing Array’s we were soon to learn about and see. The Array is in a Y formation with the center point being where the visitor center and center Array are located. One of the cool things I enjoyed learning was that the Arrays have four placements for monitoring the skies. Configuration D: Really Darn Close…this formation is when all the Arrays are in their closest setting. Configuration C: the next step out. Configuration B: even farther out. And finally, Configuration A: A REALLY LOOOOOONG WAY AWAY (approximately 13 miles in between each arm of the Array). They change the placement of the Configurations every four months. Luckily, we toured at Configuration C, so we were able to see quite a few of the Arrays in the area.
Each telescope weighs approximately 200 tons each! These aren’t called the VERY LARGE ARRAY for nothing. After we learned a bit about what scientists can use these telescopes for, we walked the grounds and went into the observation area where the activity is recorded and monitored 24/7. Finally, we were able to walk up and see one of these huge telescopes close and personal.
After we had our fill of telescopes and science we headed back into the town of Socorro, NM, to eat lunch at the El Camino Restaurant. This adventure was a fun one, but it was a long drive for not much activity (mostly standing around and listening to the tour guide talk). But, overall, I would call seeing the VLA in person, with my own little eyes, something that is worth seeing at least once!