Shoot with Spike Saturday #2

Welcome to another installment of Shoot with Spike Saturday. My given name is Mice Ince, but my friends, including Rick, know me as Spike.

Today I am going to talk briefly about the Very Large Array, a location that both Rick and I have visited several times. It’s a mesmerizing place, located along Highway 60 in New Mexico. It’s also a wonderful location for photography! Aside from some accompanying images, I wanted to share some behind the scenes info with my fellow photographers.

The Very Large Array is home to 27 telescopes, radio telescopes to be exact, with 72 possible stations upon which they can be set. They "see" radio waves and collect electoral magnetic energy from space. If 24 of these guys are operating at the same time, then it's operating at full efficiency. That leaves three to provide a buffer for repairs, maintenance, moving, etc.

This is known as the "3 antenna rule." The telescopes operate in four arrangements, known as A, B, C and D. "A" being the closest configuration, which you see above and spans a 1/2 mile diameter. "D" being the farthest arrangement at a 22 mile diameter. Once set in a configuration, they will stay like that for about 4 months. The transition to another arrangement takes two weeks. During that time you would have two arrangements combined, which is know as "hybrid formation".

The VLA officially went online in 1980, 13 years after the original proposal for it was sent to the National Science Foundation. The cost was just north of 78 million dollars in 70’s currency, or over 300 million in today’s. Many of you may recognize these telescopes. It could be because a lot of the scenes from the movie Contact (Jodie Foster, 1997) were filmed here as well. Below are some final interesting tidbits about the Very Large Array along with a shot I captured while inside the control room here.

•   All data received is processed in real time.
•   The VLA stays plenty busy – 24/7/365. You can submit proposals to them to provide you with research data and feedback. If approved your data would be collected within a 4-6 hour block. This happens sometime while it's in the configuration you specified (different configs each have their strong suits) and scheduled months later.
•   The operator pulls jobs as he sees fit and schedules them dynamically.
•   For every hour of research they allocate, there are 5 proposals.
•   Proposals are rated based on scientific research.
•   Once you receive your data, you have 1 year to utilize it how you see fit. After that the info becomes public domain.
•   If your proposal is denied you can submit it again.
•   The two biggest issues the Very Large Array faces are wind and snow.
•   The submitter writes a script that runs on the system here to collect your data.
•   Each dish is 82 feet in diameter and weighs 230 tons!
•   Data is collected as close as the moon... or as far as the edge of the universe.

For the last photo below you can see an offline antenna in the repair bay receiving its regularly scheduled maintenance. The size is huge, as you can see. The red machine on the left is used to move the antennas around the area. You can also see they travel on a double track system to support the massive weight of these things and help with turns.

If you are ever in this area of New Mexico, perhaps at Bosque de Apache, I encourage you to stop by and check out the Very Large Array. And if you are ever here at night, the noises the radio telescopes make while they are moving out in the field are some of the most haunting, yet beautiful, sounds you will ever hear!

Until next time! –Spike. Have a great Saturday.

Hey, swing by my web site for a visit. Visitors are always welcome!

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Hey Spike! Great article. Thank you! Here's a shot I took last year. We gotta go back there together someday soon.