Friday, June 19, 2015

Very Large Array

The VLA is a radiotelescope,

or 28 of them, in the high desert of New Mexico.  It collects radio-frequency radiation from the most distant stars and galaxies in the universe (as far as we know), and the data tells about the origins and deaths of stars, galaxies, and black holes that happened billions of years ago.

Some of the things they have discovered:

The array is set up in three arms radiating from a center, like a peace sign.  Each arm is 13 miles long,

which allows the telescope to focus on wavelengths of up to 22 miles.  A special purpose supercomputer - 16 petaflops, the 5th fastest in the world, and the fastest when it was built - gathers the data from the telescopes and synthesizes it into a composite view.

The individual telescopes can be moved along train tracks to form different configurations, in order to gather radio waves of different wavelengths.  There are 4 standard configurations, and they are changed 4 times a year so that scientists can gather different sets of data.  Scientists submit plans to a committee, and those judged the most worthy are granted time on the array.  The scientists don't pay, and they are from all over the world.  The VLA is funded by the US government.

We saw some antelope on the way

The scientists get exclusive use of the data they collect for a year, then it becomes public.  VLA has 2 terabytes of data on its web site now that anyone can use.  They're planning an upgrade of the telescopes and computer that will collect 2 terabytes of data every 100 minutes.  Time to buy stock in computer disk storage companies.

More pictures.

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