Tuesday, August 7, 2012

VLA in New Mexico

On our recent trip to the US, Lisa had a conference at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where she gave a talk on data assimilation.  She was awesome!

On the last day of the conference, we were able to head to the Very Large Array.   The VLA is featured in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster and is one of Lisa's favorite movies. Contrary to what is shown in the movie however, the research at the VLA is not occupied with the search for extra terrestrials, but instead uses radio astronomy to 'view' celestial objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Researchers ask for time "on" the VLA and the 27 radio antennas there capture the data the researcher needs.  The antennas are on railroad tracks and can be moved along a "Y" axis, along with tilting the dishes towards an object in space.

 Because Lisa's conference organizers were well acquainted with the VLA, we were able to get a more in-depth tour than normal groups.  We climbed up the many flights of stairs and ladders to see the cables, electronics, and the dish itself.  I was even able to walk on the inside of the dish.   Since it is white and reflects light, it is BRIGHT in that dish.

 Even though I'm afraid of heights, I made it all the way up.
The VLA is located in a valley, but a valley which still has a relatively high elevation, which makes it perfect for minimizing electronic noise from other sources.  It is protected from noise by surrounding mountains and this also means storms seem to come in pretty fast.