The NRAO Very Large Array Telescope Facility, also known as the VLA, is a radio astronomy observatory situated in Magdalena, central New Mexico. Constructed in 1973, the VLA comprises 28 radio telescopes as well as a spare one, each measuring 25 meters across. The telescopes weigh 230 tons each and are plated with aluminum. The telescopes work collectively as if they were one highly powered telescope.

The funding of the VLA was granted by Congress after the success of the four-telescope trail array known as the Green Bank Interferometer. Now, using the VLA astronomers are able to make observations of young stars and their surroundings, consequently gaining new knowledge about how radio emission occurs. Past discoveries by the VLA have been ice on Mercury, the shrouded center of the Milky Way, and the discovery of a new category of astronomical objects known as microquasars, amongst other notable discoveries. There is also a visitor center within the grounds featuring exhibits as well as a theater, gift shop, and self-guided tour opportunities.

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Permanent exhibits and attractions

The visitor center is located on the site and contains a theater and a small museum with exhibits as well as a gift shop. Inside the center, a sign directs visitors towards the theater, which features a video presentation lasting 23 minutes entitled Beyond the Visible, narrated by the actress Jodie Foster. Produced in 2013, the video focuses on an overview of the VLA, astronomy, and interferometry. Visitors can also browse the exhibitions within the center, which provide information about radio astronomy, NRAO, telescopes, and the VLA as well as current research. A gift shop offers VLA souvenirs and educational materials as well as books, t-shirts, gadgets, and maps.

The Whisper Dish Gallery is an exhibit comprising two satellite dishes demonstrating how these amplify and receive sound waves. A further exhibit located outside is the Bracewell Radio Sundial. This exhibit has a large amount of scientific history to it and was named in honor of the Australian engineer Ron Bracewell, who created one of the first radio telescopes in the world. The telescope made by Bracewell mapped the solar system and sun for 11 years, with the information then being used by NASA throughout the Apollo missions. The telescope was originally located in Stanford University but abandoned in 1980, and 10 of its piers were subsequently used in the construction of the radio sundial. These 10 piers have historic signatures from the time when Bracewell used his telescope as a guestbook and visitors chipped their names into the concrete. Further on in the visitor center is the Radio Astronomy Gallery, which highlights significant findings by the VLA using detailed photography and information placards. Finally, also located in the visitor center is a muted 5-minute video detailing how antennas are moved.

As visitors leave the center, they can get a brochure that contains a map and information for the route of the self-guided tour. The tour takes visitors from the visitor center towards the control building and array. There is an interpretive panel by the visitor center that gives out detailed information such as the temperature of the receiver and the weight and height of each of the dishes and antennas. After this, visitors can head up to the observation area where the array can be seen.

Ongoing programs and education

At the VLR there is a guided tour program for educational groups, which must be pre-booked in advance. Also offered are the free Open House Events, which are free tours given by NRAO staff who talk about and demonstrate VLA operations. Staff who work at the NRAO are available throughout the event to interact and talk with the public. During this event, family-oriented astronomy activities are on display to use and learn from further NRAO-sponsored community workshops, while community-driven design studies programs are run at the observatory on specific days of the month.

The Plains of San Agustin, Old Highway 60, Magdalena, NM 87825, Phone: 575-835-7410