Friday, November 18, 2011
Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects that emit radio waves. This type of astronomy uses large radio antennas or radio telescopes that can be used either singularly or as multiple linked telescopes utilizing radio inferometry and aperture synthesis techniques. It is incredibly useful because radio waves penetrate dust, which can obstruct visible light, and see objects which would otherwise be invisible to us. Astronomers can observe such things as the Microwave Background Radiation (the remnant signal of the birth of the universe in the Big Bang), the generation of galaxies, black holes, and much more.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a facility of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NRAO was founded in 1956 and provides radio telescope facilities open to all astronomers regardless of institutional or national affiliation. One of the most famous and widely used of their facilities is the Very Large Array (VLA) located on the Plains of San Agustin, about 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, USA. You may recognize it if you have seen the movie Contact. The VLA consists of 27, 230-ton, 25-meter diameter dish antennas that together comprise a single radio telescope system. Over the past few years, the original 1970's vintage electronics that run the telescopes has been replaced with state-of-the-art equipment, expanding the VLA into the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) by 2012. This new equipment increases the telescope's technical capabilities by factors of as much as 8,000!
And now this new facility needs a new name!
The NRAO is currently seeking ideas for a new name for the VLA and they want you to submit your ideas. You can enter a free-form name, or a word or phrase to come as a prefix before "Very Large Array," or both. Submissions will be accepted until 23:59 EST on December 1, 2011. The new name will be announced at NRAO's Town Hall at the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, January 10, 2012.
Visit the Name the Array webpage to learn more and submit your ideas!
(image by Richard Ryer and from panoramio.com, selected for Google Earth ID: 633587)