Canyons, Boulders and Radio Waves

After an uneventful three-hour drive from Santa Fe to Socorro we parked the motorhome, relaxed, had lunch, checked what damage “The Donald” had done while we were moving and headed out into the great unknown. Alltrails pointed to the “Box Canyon Trail” about 8 miles west of Socorro along highway 60. We parked the car on a BLM parking lot, walked a few miles through a canyon and amongst boulders that are used by local climbing enthusiasts. The dogs and I, as always, had a very good time.

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However, the purpose of the stopover in Socorro was to visit the Very Large Array. A visit to this world-famous radio astronomy observatory has been on my bucket list for a long time.

Named after Karl G. Jansky, the inventor of radio astronomy, the facility is located in the high, treeless and dry desert of the San Agustin Plains approximately 50 miles/ 80 km west of Socorro. The VLA is one of the leading edge radio astronomy facilities in the world. What makes it unique is that it consists of 27 radio antennas arranged in one of four configurations along a Y shaped track system. In it’s A configuration the antennas on each axis are spread out over 13 miles/ 21 km. In it’s D configuration the antennas are only spread out over 1 mile/ 1.6 km. The configuration of the antennas has a significant impact on the resolution of the device. If interested in that kind of stuff start reading at VLA and go from there.

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At a time of “Fake News” and science deniers in high places it is good to see a facility that is dedicated to the establishment of facts. Given that the clowns in Washington propose to significantly cut the EPA and NIH budget, it is just a question of time when money for this kind of basic research will dry up as well. If we can’t agree to protect the planet we are living on, why would we care about galaxies billions of light-years away?

It was exciting to be at the VLA and feel the presence of eternity around us. We are all just a dot in space & time and we shouldn’t take ourselves so dam serious. Stay tuned; there is more to come.

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