But I Digress – Revealing the Hidden Universe

VLA-1Magdalena, New Mexico

This week, an extra post, with photos not quite old enough to be a #ThrowbackThursday. The featured subject is a camera of sorts, a camera that looks deeply into the history of the universe. The uninspiringly named Very Large Array (VLA), is one of the world’s best known radio observatories.

Located at the Plains of San Agustin in central New Mexico, the array is just south of the Cibola National Forest. A 50-mile detour from I-25 west on US 60 between Magdalena and Datil, there are three railroad tracks stretching across the plains. The dishes in the VLA are mounted on rail cars can be moved along the tracks. Using Google maps, if you search for Magdalena, New Mexico and zoom out to the west, the three arms of the railroad track are visible.


For perspective, if you look at the base of the 230-ton (208652 kg) dish, you will see I am taking a “selfie”. I am 5’6″ (1.67 m) tall.

Each dish is 82 feet (25 m) in diameter. A complement of 27 dishes, plus a couple of other “extenders” on the hillside above the plains, create an equivalent 422-foot (130 m) radio telescope dish. Data gathered from each of the dishes is processed using a computer housed at the facility. More details of the VLA can be found here.


The array has multiple configurations that fit various goals of the astronomers who share the system’s output. A schedule of configuration changes is available. If you happen to be in the area on the first Saturday of each month, guided tours are available. Check the National Radio Astronomy Observatory here for their current schedule of tours before you travel. There is an admission fee but the tours are free. I submit for your review, a small gallery of images from the Very Large Array site. Click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner



7 thoughts on “But I Digress – Revealing the Hidden Universe

  1. Hi John! I really enjoyed your post! Your photos are lovely, and I especially liked how you told your readers a little bit about what it was you had photographed. I didn’t even know this place existed in New Mexico, it’s really neat 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    ❤ and harp strings,

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