San Agustin, New Mexico
The peripatetic professor Scott Kirkpatrick, seeing where I was yesterday, told me last night on email not to miss The Very Large Array. I'd already been aware that it was on my route, but his reminder was helpful, and what happened earlier today was a bit magical. I arrived late morning. I made the picture above on the way into the facility, wondering just exactly how to get in. As I got back into my car, a little flotilla of cars passed so I followed them. Where else would they be going? Once I parked, it was clear a group of people had gathered around a man in a green hat. For a silly moment I thought he might be the Park Ranger, though of course this isn't a park. Wrong kind of green hat, too.
Scientist's joke on the whiteboard.
Dave was passionate about the importance of the array. He emphasized that, if you're an American citizen, this is your astronomical radio observatory, paid for with your tax dollars (well spent) and it is the best in the world. Nothing learned from the array is classified. All data from all projects is open. Anyone can apply to do a project with the array (but you'd better know how it works—post-doc study would help, but some high school science projects have made the cut) to get through the peer-review process to use this amazing tool.
The students (teachers doing advanced credit work) got to see the control room for the array, and ask questions of the operator, including what their students might need to do to qualify for his job.
Gene came by during the tour. He's essentially the daily operations manager, with engineering and management experience, while Jose, in the control room has an undergraduate degree in astrophysics. He explained how self-contained the facility is. From power to water to a fire truck, while nearly all repairs and upgrades are done on site. In fact, the permanent arrangement is 28 of the behemoth towers, 27 on the operational grid and one assumed at all times to be in "the barn" for maintenance or upgrade.
That's the barn. The array units are a tight squeeze. This stuff is big.
This is the High Plains Lifter. One of only two that exist. Both here. It moves the antennas (isn't that sort of an inadequate word for a 250 ton device?) on railroad tracks when they cycle into the barn for refitting. I guess the unit that carried the Shuttle launch packages was bigger, but this is a pretty impressive package handler.
It just fits.