Visit to the VLA

by Dave Noble

I recently made a quick trip to New Mexico (3 days out, 3 days back) to pick up some astronomy equipment. The Very Large Array (VLA) was on my list of potential places to visit and I knew that being in the western U.S., I had a pretty good chance of seeing the lunar eclipse on the morning of January 31st, but before I left CT I didn’t know where I would be on that date. When I rolled into northern NM on Sunday night after 3 days of driving, I realized that I could be at the VLA during the lunar eclipse.

I picked up my astronomy gear midday on Monday, and hit the road south toward Socorro. I spent the next day touring the VLA site, taking pictures of the array, and planning where to view the eclipse the next morning. Before leaving for the day, I decided that in the morning I would setup beside one of the antennas where county road 52 crosses the southwestern arm.

On the morning of the eclipse, I left Socorro at 4:00 am and noted that it was 37F, not bad for the end of January. But when I arrived at the VLA, the temperature had dropped to only single digits. Brrr. It was so dark I could barely make out the silhouette of the huge antenna less than 100 feet away from the road. I had to take practice shots at long exposures to improve the focus and the framing of the shots. As the sun rose, the cold had nearly depleted my camera’s battery and my hands were too cold to do much more so I packed up my camera and tripod and said farewell to the VLA.

Watch VLA film, narrated by Jodie Foster: http://public.nrao.edu/gallery/beyond-the-visible-vla

Take a virtual tour of the VLA: http://public.nrao.edu/explorer/vla

Panoramic view of the North Arm.

View along the North Arm of the array. Each of the three arms stretch out 10 miles from the center of the array.

One of two antenna transporters prepares to relocate an antenna.

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