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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 00-37 - May 27, 2000

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 Amber Jones

 (703) 292-8070

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 Jim Breckinridge

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This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Twenty Years of Radio Observations to Highlight VLA'S Anniversary

Antennae of VLA in New Mexico;caption is below
Antennae of the VLA in the
New Mexico desert
Photo Credit: courtesy of NRAO

Cosmic jet by VLA;caption is below
Cosmic jet revealed by VLA.
Photo Credit: courtesy of NRAO
Select image for larger version
(Size: 127KB)

 Note About Images

Scientists next week will mark the 20th anniversary of the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA), the most powerful, flexible and widely-used radio telescope in the world. Discoveries made by the array of 27 antennae in the New Mexico desert have ranged from the surprising detection of water ice on Mercury, the planet nearest the sun, to the first detection of radio emission from a gamma ray burster. Its images rival the best produced by astronomy observatories anywhere on Earth and in space.

"Twenty years ago, the VLA's dramatic new capabilities marked a turning point for astronomers," said Rita Colwell, NSF director. "Today it continues to advance all branches of astronomy -- and is a prime example of how the National Science Foundation advances science and engineering at the frontiers."

The VLA was used to find the first "Einstein ring" gravitational lens in 1987 and the first "microquasar" within the Milky Way in 1994. Over two decades, the VLA has furthered our understanding of active regions on the sun, the physics of superfast "cosmic jets" of material pouring from the hearts of distant galaxies, the mysterious central region of our own galaxy and the atmospheres of other stars.

The results of research conducted with the array fill thousands of pages in numerous scientific journals and are cited throughout modern astronomy textbooks. In addition to these accomplishments, the VLA has served as a prime tool for training young astronomers. More than 200 Ph.D. degrees awarded at U.S. and foreign universities have been based on dissertation research using its data.

The telescope's 20th anniversary will be marked May 30, 2000, in a ceremony at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico. Colwell, U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexcio and Anneila Sargent, president-elect of the American Astronomical Society, are scheduled to participate. Also on the agenda are NRAO Director Paul Vanden Bout; Riccardo Giacconi, president of Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), which operates the telescope; Paul Martin, chairman of the AUI board of trustees; and Miller Goss, NRAO's director of VLA operations.

The VLA is a collection of 27 steel-and-aluminum parabolic dish antennas, each one 82 feet in diameter and 230 tons. These antennas are arranged in a giant "Y" pattern 20 miles across on the high-desert Plains of San Agustin, 50 miles west of Socorro. The 27 antennas work together as a single radio-telescope system, producing images of radio-emitting objects in the universe far more detailed than could be made by a single antenna.


Editors: Media are invited to attend the anniversary ceremony; contact Dave Finley, NRAO, at (505) 835-7302/ For background and images of the VLA's scientific achievements, see:



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