"The Very Large Array" Top 5 Page for this destination Socorro Off The Beaten Path Tip by toonsarah

Socorro Off The Beaten Path: 7 reviews and 16 photos

by toonsarah
  • The Very Large Array - Socorro
  • The Very Large Array - Socorro
  • The Very Large Array - Socorro
  • VLA from afar - Socorro
      VLA from afar
    by toonsarah
  • Railroad crossing near VLA - Socorro
      Railroad crossing near VLA
    by toonsarah

The Very Large Array, or VLA as it is commonly known, is an amazing sight, and one not to be missed if you are anywhere near this part of New Mexico, in my opinion! The huge radio telescopes, 27 of them, rise majestically out of the huge, otherwise almost empty, Plains of San Augustin like visitors from another world altogether. But these are not visitors from another world, but searchers for such a world.

These massive dishes (25 m/82 feet in diameter, and weighing 230 tons) are antennae, arranged in a Y formation and set on equally massive tracks that allow them to be bunched fairly close together (just a kilometre apart) or spread out over 36 kilometres. I don?t pretend to fully understand the science, but the broad principle is that by combining the signals picked up from several antennae scientists can map radio sources from across the universe.

Quite apart from their scientific significance I also found the dishes rather beautiful, and incredibly photogenic. The self-guided tour is well worth doing, as it allows you to get really close to one of the dishes and also teaches you all you ever wanted to know (possibly more!) about radio astronomy. The tour is free, although you are invited to make a small donation for the accompanying leaflet. You start in the Visitor Centre, where a short video explains the principles of radio astronomy and the workings of the VLA. Other exhibits cover some of the same ground but also expand on the explanations, and there are some beautiful images of outer space made with the telescopes.

But for us the main attractions lay outside, so we quickly headed out of the back door, collecting one of the leaflets to guide us. The walking tour covers about half a mile I would say, and is clearly signposted. There are a number of stops along the way, with information about each in the leaflet, but the main highlight for most will be arriving right at the base of one of the antennae and getting a powerful sense of its huge size. If you are lucky, as we were, it will adjust its position while you are there, turning to point towards some new, unseen and distant object.

From here you loop round to arrive at the main research building, where a terrace allows you a general view of the whole array. Photo 2 was taken from here ? open it up to see how tiny the people appear next to the dish. Back at the Visitor Centre you can shop for souvenirs (we just bought a couple of postcards) and revisit any of the exhibits that have taken on fresh relevance after your walk. Note that there are only limited refreshments available here, from a vending machine, although there are good bathroom facilities.

On your way back to the road you can detour (signposted) to see the Antenna Assembly Building and (sometimes) one of the transporters used to move these massive dishes. We also found it worthwhile to stop at the point where Highway 52 crosses the railroad, as there are good distant views of the VLA (see photo four) and of the railroad stretching into the distance across the plains.

Directions:50 miles west of Socorro on U.S. Highway 60. From U.S. 60, turn South on NM 52, then West on the VLA access road, which is well signposted, as is the Visitor Centre

Website: http://www.vla.nrao.edu/

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Nov 1, 2011
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