Very Large Array (VLA), New Mexico
(April 30, 2016)— VLA, New Mexico—You’ve all heard it, you all know it: New Mexico is not only home to the world’s best chile, it’s also the most popular tourist destination in the USA for visiting, yet rather elusive, extraterrestrial beings. Competing destinations include Barrow, AK and the whole of California- but who’s to count on the former? California, remember, has the best medicinal bud this side of the Mississippi, which can explain a lot as to why people are claiming they’re “seeing sh*t”. And dwellers of Barrow, AK live more than half of their year without sunshine, which to us New Mexicans, whom enjoy 300 days of sunshine, would surely make anyone crazy.
Anyway, since moving to the great and arid Southwest, I’ve taken it upon myself to do as the locals: speak in the sickest Burqueno moch (the famed New Mexico accent), drive like I don’t know how, and yep, believe in aliens. To be clear, I haven’t seen any UFO’s since my arrival back in June ’15, but I pretend I have in conversation (well, sometimes… ch’ya ittotally depends with whom I’m speaking); “Blend in,” once said George Lopez.
To gain a bit of vetted merit for my knowledge of extraterrestrial life, I paid a visit to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a.k.a. the Very Large Array (VLA) of New Mexico- which consists of 27 radio antennas located in the dried up ancient lake bed of San Agustin; about 50 miles outside of Socorro, NM.
Now, you may recognize the Very Large Array in one of two cases: via the 1997 movie “Contact” starring Jodie Foster as an ambitious astronomer whom documents the world’s first contact with Aliens- hence it’s title; and/or via the 1980 series Cosmos narrated by sexy nerd astronomer Carl Sagan, where he took us on a voyage through the cosmos and sucking black holes, and where we dodged fiery stars by mere inches as we soared through gaseous nebulas. Aside from these two (of many) claims to fame, the VLA nonetheless has a history of about 400 years, and all thanks to a super genius named Karl G. Jansky.
Karl, let’s call him on a first name basis like we personally know the dude, was the first American physicist to discover radio waves in 1931. His discovery came about via his design and construction of an antenna that read radio wavelengths as long as 47 feet; imagine! That’s 40 feet plus seven more! Insane! ;) Well, push came to shove, and pretty soon we have 27 antennas that record radio waves from deep space and beyond.
Radio waves help us picture the future, as they provide us a peek through the dusty blankets that hide newly-forming stars and planets from our eyes and optical telescopes. According to studies made by the VLA, there is an entire invisible universe that emits light that not even our eyes can see; the light our eyes can see is only a tiny fraction of the light given off by normal matter in the Universe.
The VLA is also, and most importantly, an engineering marvel, with each dish measuring about 82 feet (25 meters) across; that’s about two school buses from tip to end. The antennas record the radio sky for 5,000 hours every year, both day and night, and are controlled by a select group of scientists chosen via a very competitive application process (only about 12 of the world’s best scientists are permitted to study with the VLA at any given time, and usually their contracts are yearly). To date, the VLA has been able to see as far as 26,000 light years (that’s over 150 quadrillion miles from NM) into our mysterious galaxy. Not to mention, each antenna is fully-steerable and runs on 82 miles of railroad track.
For the die-hard astronomy nerd, the Very Large Array is a haven of far out science and imagination. Learn more about the VLA by visiting their official website and be sure to get your butts over to the VLA ASAP. It’s an incredible feature of great New Mexico and one you simply cannot miss!