Very Large Array

November 16, 2012

Our schedule wasn’t so tough today. So we had a relaxing start to the day: got up at a reasonable time, had oatmeal for breakfast, and then headed down to the Bosque for our first event, which didn’t start until 9 am.

Once we arrived there we got on our bus for the tour. We were waiting for two people, and when they finally arrived we left, 15 minutes late. Our tour was called “Refuge Birding Tour” and the people on the bus ranged from people who weren’t birders at all to people who were pretty good birders. However the leaders coped with the differences quite well. The first stop was the Flight Deck, which turned out to be quite productive with several different birds including a Bald Eagle and several shorebirds. The rest of the tour around the north loop was uneventful, but we did learn to tell the difference between Greater and Lesser Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

After the tour we went into the artists’ tent, which had just opened today. There were a few high-end sellers there, but many of the artists were quite reasonably priced. We looked for souvenirs for quite a while, but then it was time to run off to our next scheduled event, which was the Very Large Array radio telescope, about an hour and half drive away.

Snow Geese at rest

Snow Geese at rest

Leaving the Bosque we stopped briefly at one pond filled with Snow Geese before heading back to Socorro. Once in Socorro we took Highway 60 past Magdalena to the VLA. We were cutting the time close, so we ate lunch in the car as we drove. Even so it was almost exactly 1:30 pm when we pulled into the VLA parking lot.

Very Large Array telescope

Very Large Array telescope

First we had a talk by the education coordinator telling us about the history of the site, then a short video. After that we had a tour around the site, which was really interesting as they took us behind the scenes to see the computers which process the information received by the radio telescopes which make up the array. Before we left we also got to go up close to one of the telescopes. From the distance they don’t look all that large, but once under one you realize how large they really are. From the control room we could see most of the telescopes. There are 27 of them, in three lines extending across the plain towards the horizon. Each of them weighed hundreds of tons, and yet they could be moved back and forth on rails. It was quite an impressive operation.

Very Large Array control panel

Very Large Array control panel

Back in Socorro we decided to have hot chocolate before making dinner. Our evening program involved going up to the Etscorn telescope at the university for a “star party”. This would be a drop-in session between 7 and 10 pm, so we didn’t need to rush through dinner. It had been more or less cloudy all day, but we were hoping the clouds would go away. They hadn’t really, but we headed up to the observatory anyway. After a wrong turning we found ourselves outside the observatory in a very dark parking lot. Following some red lights we made our way inside the building.

Very Large Array tracks

Very Large Array tracks

It was still overcast, so star-gazing was off the agenda. One of the astronomers was giving an impromptu talk about photos from the Astronomy Picture of the Day, and a couple of students showed us their colour pictures of a few astronomical objects including the “Sculptor” galaxy NGC 235. We stayed for a bit but then headed back home to write journals and watch TV.

November 15: Fly Out At Sunrise

November 17: Fly In At Sunset

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