Friday, September 28, 2012

The Very Large (and Very Cool) Array

In addition to all the natural beauty of New Mexico, some equally beautiful features on the landscape are made by humans.  One of them is the Very Large Array (VLA).

Constructed between 1973 and 1980, the VLA is located on a broad plain 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, that is surrounded by mountains and is approximately 7,000 feet above sea level.

The VLA is a collection of 27 radio antenna dishes, each 25 meters in diameter and weighing 230 tons.  

The antennas are arrayed along three lines in the shape of a "Y," with 9 antennas on each line.  The antennas can be moved to different positions along the arms of the Y -- close together or far apart.

The VLA is used to observe black holes, proto-planetary discs, and other astronomical phenomena that emit energy at radio frequencies (whose wavelengths are 100,000 times longer than visible light -- hence the need for very large telescopes).

Besides its scientific value, the VLA's iconic beauty has captured the imaginations of filmmakers, rock musicians, and others.  It first appeared in the movie "2010" (the sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey") in 1984, but was most notable in the 1997 film, "Contact," starring Jodie Foster.

You can see the VLA in the trailer for "Contact" here.

When I visited the site in mid-September, the dishes were in one of their more dispersed configurations, with about a mile between each dish.

Consequently, it was a challenge to get more than one dish in the same visual frame.  That just meant I had to be creative in my shooting.

For more of my images of the VLA, visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Be sure to check out the video (last item in the gallery) of a dish being re-oriented.

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