Making 'Contact' with the Very Large Array

How can you not be impressed by an array of 27 huge dish antennae spread over miles and miles of gorgeous New Mexico terrain?

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
The Very Large Array is a telescope array made up of 28 230-ton, 25-meter dish antennae. Twenty seven are in use at any time, with one housed in the barn, where the antennae are maintained. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

DATIL, N.M.--I spent a good part of Monday at what has to be one of the coolest astronomy sites in the world: the Very Large Array.

I plan to post a full story and gallery on Wednesday, but for now, I thought I'd offer up a tease of a couple of pictures of this amazing place. The VLA, as it's known, is a collection of 28 230-ton, 25-meter dish antennae (with 27 in use at any given time, comprising a single, er, very large array) that has been used since 1980 to produce a giant body of scientific discovery.

I visited the VLA as part of Road Trip 2007, my journey to the best science- and technology-related destinations in the American Southwest. And given what I knew of the VLA, I expected to be impressed since, well, how could you not be by 27 giant dish antennae arrayed over miles and miles of beautiful New Mexico terrain.

Well, all I can say is, it more than lived up to my expectations.

If you've seen the Jodie Foster film Contact, you know what I'm talking about. If not, you might want to go see it, though I don't think that the film's science has any basis in reality.

Still, it showcases the dishes wonderfully, and I'd love for everybody to be able to see them.

Stay tuned for more on the VLA.

The Very Large Array is made up of 28 radio telescopes. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com