The first destination of the day was the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory
. Most people have seen it, even if they don't know what it is called or what it is used for. As a Carl Sagan
fan I knew it from Cosmos
. Others know it from the movie Contact
. The site is like an icon for astronomy, and as such I was on pilgrimage.
Rather lazy getting out of bed this morning and slept until 8:00 am. Had stopped in Lemitar, New Mexico and was about an hour away from my destination. As I drove through the very empty country I recall seeing one of the dishes of the VLA
in the distance and yelled out "There it is!"
I stopped on the way in to take some pictures, then went to the visitors center. All around were signs asking people to turn off their cellphones. We were in the middle of nowhere and had no service anyway, so it's not anyone was going to miss a call. The antenna are so sensitive they can hear the beacon from a cellphone even if aimed upward just from having a cellphone on the grounds. The array was configured in a mix with two legs in the B configuration, and one in the A configuration. The A configuration is the most spread out, and B is the second most. They were actually moving dishes that day, although I didn't see any moving while I was there. So I am not sure if they were acquiring any data or not. Because they listen to radio frequency they can see the stars during the day even if we cannot.
The visitors center is free and begins with a video about the array. They had Jodi Foster (the star of Contact) narrate the video, and I learned the site has actually been used for several media events (movies, music videos, ext). The array itself has recently been upgraded to cover a wider range of radio frequency, and a more powerful data processing center. Each dish produces 109 GBit/sec of data, and all 27 dishes are fed into a computer that has to continuously put 2.9 terabits/sec of data together. All this data is saved to disk and analysis. The sensors in each dish have to be cooled to 15 °
K (-432.67 °
F or -258 °
C) so the heat from being a black body radiation
doesn't interfere with readings.
To me visiting this place made the trip worthwhile. I could have gone back home that day and been happy. It was really a privilage to stand next to this interment. Science engineering at it's finest. Makes me feel I need to work harder so that one day I might contribute my abilities to helping projects like the VLA. Very inspirational.
My next stop was to be at White Sands National Monument
. However, some dummy at White Sands Missile Range went and crashed a drone in the park. 275 square miles of desert, and they had to crash in the only part of it open to the public when I was in town. The closest I got was pulling over on the side of the road were a dune was escaping the park.
Stopped at a rest area in Texas Canyon around 11:00 pm.