Very Large Array (VLA)

Very Large Array (VLA)

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is the radio telescope located near Socorro. The telescope consists of 27 dishes, each 82 feet in diameter, arranged in a Y pattern. The dishes act like a single telescope 22 miles across.

Beginning in the 1960s, scientists envisioned a giant radio telescope using multiple dishes working in unison.  Congress approved funding for the VLA in August 1972 and construction started the next year. The facility was completed and formally dedicated in 1980. The VLA location on the Plains of San Agustin was ideal because of the dry climate, it is far from major cities, and surrounded by mountains on every side, which act a natural barrier to keep out radio interference.

The VLA has contributed much to our understanding of the universe. It has been used in more than 10,000 different astronomical projects and has had a major impact on nearly every branch of astronomy.

Most people know of the VLA due to its prominent role in the Jodie Foster movie "Contact" from 1997. Strangely enough up until that time, the VLA had not been used to search for extraterrestrial life.