Astronomy Today

Radio Telescopes

What is the VLA radio telescope facility?

The Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of twenty-seven radio antennae, each eighty-two feet (twenty-five meters) across and weighing 230 tons, arranged in a Y-shaped configuration on a high desert plateau near Socorro, New Mexico. The data from all the antennae are combined using interferometry to give the resolution of a single antenna up to twenty-two miles (thirty-six kilometers) across, with the sensitivity of a single radio telescope dish 422 feet (130 meters) across. The VLA was recently greatly expanded in its capabilities and rededicated as the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, in honor of the pioneering radio astronomer.

The VLA is used every day and night to measure and study, in great detail, distant radio sources, such as pulsars, quasars, and black holes. Each of the twenty-seven antennae is more than seven stories high, and the telescope site is surrounded by beautiful scenery. The VLA has often inspired the creative imaginations of television producers and movie-makers, who have used the facility as a high-technology backdrop for numerous science and science-fiction shows and movies


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