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The Very Large Array in New Mexico is one of our favorite places to go. It is a facility that studies the stars and things above. There are 27 radio telescopes that use radio waves to make pictures of space. We met Robyn who gave us a amazing opportunity to learn about the work being done here, it is important to every human being on Earth and those that are out there somewhere. When we called to arrange a tour she told us that we would be going with a group of seniors from the local town but that they couldn't walk much. She said if we waited till they got back on the bus she would give us a special behind the scenes tour that not a lot of people get. Sounds good to us.
We drove all night to get there and when we woke up there was snow and it was pretty cold. There is absolutely nothing around this place, in fact it is in the middle of nowhere at an elevation of around 7,000 feet. There are no near towns to park in so we found this pullout by the VLA and slept. When we woke up we had a few inches of snow, it was beautiful! It was also very cool looking out the window and seeing the dishes in the field.
Bon Jovi was recently at the VLA shooting a video and a picture of the VLA ended up on their new CD. The movie Contact starring Jodie Foster was partially filmed at the VLA playing on the whole SETI thing (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). We learned that the VLA does not actually do any SETI work because it creates a very focused view of the sky. The telescopes are linked together to form one huge telescope looking into space. They are moved along railroad tracks very slowly to either bring them closer together or spread them farther apart to gather the most information.
The seniors were great and they loved seeing the kids. We held the doors for them and helped them around the tour. It was really funny because they were really impressed with the technology and kept ohhing and ahhing.
This line carried the information from the dishes to the computers, it's made of copper and considered a very old school method. Then it is processed by the aliens and fed to us through the TV. No, it's turned into data and hidden by the government.
The old copper pipe method has been replaced with this fiber optic cable that made it a lot smaller, more reliable, and carries tons more data. Ohhh and ahhh.
Greg standing in front of rows of computers that process the information from the dishes. These are very old computers but are still doing the job. Robyn told us they have to make these work because the funds are tight for the kind of computers that they need.
Scientists hard at work reading the data that just came in from outer space, what do you do?
This is what comes in on the computers from the dishes. The scientists turn it into human terms and then try to sell the aliens more than they need.
This Greg is one of the guys who monitors the information that comes in from the dishes on the computers. He is not allowed to leave the premises ever. No, he can leave. After this picture was taken he was hauled away in an unmarked vehicle.
Unschooling doesn't require us to learn more than what we need to know.
This bumper sticker is in a shot in the movie Contact. Turns out they only filmed onsite for only one week. Most of the shots indoors were done in a Hollywood studio and lots of the outdoor shots were in California with the VLA dishes super-imposed. Did not know that!
Ok, now that the seniors are on the bus back to town, Robyn is hooking us up with a wicked awesome behind the scenes tour of the VLA. We were equipped with hard hats and led out to a dish we were going to climb. This was an incredible opportunity that isn't offered to everyone, so we were thrilled that we got to go.
This is the dish we are going to climb. It is hard to tell just how big this thing is, but as you get closer to it your heart starts thumping pretty good.
On our way up the ladder, Robyn is a pro at guiding the kids through little openings to get to the top. Kind of weird but worth it!
We climbed ten stories high on a metal ladder in freezing conditions and when we got to the top you open the hatch and stick your head out into the dish! It was scary being up that high, but it was well worth it. We took turns looking out into the dish and were amazed at the size of the dish.
This is the receiver in the middle of the dish where the dish focuses the signals and beams it to the computers.
We spent a little time up in the dish and then headed back down to finish the rest of our special tour.
We were all glad to be coming back down the dish, but appreciate the insight to how this huge machine works. The kids didn't really think about how scary it was to see them running up and down the ladder, but we were both glad to get them off.
We had to climb through railings to get to the bottom of the dish again. Robyn was totally used to it and was a pro at getting up and down with no problem.
The buildings are the living and working quarters of the crew at the VLA. They are able to lease the telescopes and the time from the government and we learned that anyone could do the same. It is open for use by the public, all you have to do is explain what your purpose is and get it approved by the review board.
Robyn is taking us to the room where the computers that process the information are located. These doors are to help prevent electronic waves from interfering with the desired waves. There are a set of two sealed doors you pass through - kinda dungeon like...
These are the computers in the room that receive the information from the dishes and turn it into data for the scientists. These computers took up huge rooms and had blinking lights, they were pretty.
All the information that is collected from the dishes is recorded and stored on these reels. Bet there are some juicy things on those things.
The VLA is a great place to visit and learn about what goes on here. The work they do there is important so that we can learn more about what our universe is like. The people at the VLA are working hard for the future generations to understand just how the universe works. Remember we are all connected and should love each other. We really thank Robyn for giving us such an awesome tour!
>> Dec '02