New Mexico’s Very Large Array Radio Telescope

Earlier this month, during my sojourn to Eagar, Arizona for a high school reunion, one of the things I really wanted to see was the Very Large Array, a radio telescope the feds built on the Plains of San Agustin. A huge, very flat, very dry, former lake bed in a remote part of New Mexico. My family left the area in 1971 and the facility started being built in 1973 and was operational a few years later.


I had read and seen photos of the giant antennas at the site. There are twenty eight of them and they are ninety feet tall. When I dropped out of the mountains to the plains where the VLA is located, the plains are so vast that the antennas looked like small mushrooms popping up on a large football field. But when you get close, the antennas are indeed gigantic.


There are twenty eight of these antennas spread out on three rails going out from a hub. The rails are in a Y configuration and and are about ten miles in length give or take. This allows the towers to be wide apart to focus in on details. You see the tires are all wired together with fiberoptics and are connected to a supercomputer. So it simulates up to a 22 mile wide telescope. I am not sure that I understand it all but fortunately they have a comprehensive web site with all sorts of videos, photos, and other things to help you make sense of it.


They have a very good, self guided, walking tour. They ask that you register in advance. It only costs a few dollars per person.


This is big science but it is retro big science. They first started making images there in 1980. They have upgraded the software, wiring, and computational capabilities so they keep the site current.


The VLA is in this remote site because of the flat terrain, high altitude, and low humidity. The mountains that ring the plains help keep out radio waves. Warning though, the site has not very good cell phone coverage and the facility has no street address so they suggest you download the map on google maps or may never get there. They actually don’t like cell phones and ask that you turn yours completely off when visiting. They said the cell phones can kind of fog the images. In fact everything you have that is wireless including blue tooth just turn off.


This is the admin building where the technical stuff and people are. They let you walk on the balcony but you cannot go inside.


This is the barn where they do maintenance and upgrades on the antennas.


This is the transporter that picks up and moves the antennas. They change their configuration of the towers every several months.

Check this link for a video narrated by Jodie Foster explaining the VLA. She does a lot better job than I can. She made a movie, Contact, that had her at the VLA communicating with aliens.

Linking with Skywatch Friday and My Corner of the World

14 thoughts on “New Mexico’s Very Large Array Radio Telescope

  1. Eileen

    Neat captures of those giant antennas. The skies are looking beautiful.
    I enjoyed your sunset from the gulf coast too.
    Take care, have a great day!

  2. Carol

    Fascinating post – love your photos – those incredible photos with intense blue skies against the white clouds grabs my attention and demands I look.

  3. Amy

    I think there is one of these satellites in Auckland, it’s been there for years, I don’t think there are anymore.

  4. Lisa

    Interesting. A nice clear sky out there. “Very Large Array” seems a silly name to me. Like they wondered what to call it, and someone just said, “I don’t know, it’s just a very large array.”
    When I was in Puerto Rico I wanted to go see the Arecibo Telescope, which collapsed in 2020, but the car I rented didn’t have the GPS I asked for, so I didn’t venture out that far! It was used for SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence)!

  5. Peter B.

    Now this is cool! It brings up all kinds of Sci Fi images in my mind. Can you visit this sight at night? If I recall correctly, a photographer friend of mine got some wonderful night photos of these under the stars. Thanks for the post… very interesting stuff!

  6. Alana

    So interesting. I took an astronomy class in high school but never pursued it. I would love to see this one day.

  7. Isabella Kramer

    What a wide and dry landscape. And the radio telescopes looks like standing on an unknown planet. Incredible beautiful sky shoots and a very informative article. The announced film sounds good, must see it.

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