Downtown Knoxville in Fall Colors
Downtown Knoxville in Fall Colors

As someone who is a bit of a space nerd, a visit out to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory has been high on my list for a while.  The “Very Large Array” (VLA for short) is quite the spectacle, with its collection of radio telescopes all trained up at the sky, peering in at who knows what.  It was fascinating to watch the dishes move in sync as they track objects being studied, and then recalibrate themselves on a known object.  The VLA is made up of 28 antennas (the dishes) that can be arranged in a number of different configurations, as narrow as a mile from end to end, up to 22 miles (Yes, they can roll these giant things around – its done so on specially designed train tracks).

When I take pictures of the sky, I use a tracking mount that follows the sky, so I was assuming that these antenna would move in a similar way.  What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how MUCH they move!  It was pretty impressive to watch these giants turn around – but it made it a bit difficult to photograph with longer exposures!  It definitely required some patience, and a bit of trail and error.

After landing on the idea of visiting the VLA, I had it in my head to get a Milky Way shot with the array.  Seemed very appropriate.  Having never been there before though, I didn’t know quite what I was in for.  Because the antenna sit on government property (which closes well before dark), I was essentially forced into a handful of compositions; all from the side of the road.  Fortunately one was parked literally right at the roadside and gave me a view of the Milky Way off to its side though.  The light that can be seen in the distance isn’t a city, but rather a forest fire that was unfortunately burning in a nearby National Forest. Crazy!

Below in the Alternative Perspective section, you’ll find two more images of the VLA as I waited for night fall.  The second one was the only vantage point I could find where I could line up multiple antenna into a single shot – and was happy they posed for me. 🙂

More next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Very Large Array
Old Hwy 60, Magdalena, NM 87825, USA

Alternate Perspective

ˈȯl-tər-nət pər-ˈspek-tiv
  1. A substitute or different visible scene.
  2. Another view or angle.
Downtown Knoxville in Fall Colors
Downtown Knoxville in Fall Colors

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