NSF PR 00-37 - May 27, 2000
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Twenty Years of Radio Observations to Highlight VLA'S
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) firstname.lastname@example.org.
For background and images of the VLA's scientific
achievements, see: http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/pr/vla20/vla20.html