Monday, May 23, 2016
Very Large Array
Earlier this spring, the Bear crew and I made a visit to the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, a radio astronomy observatory located on the plains of San Agustin in southern New Mexico. The VLA, as it is known, is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a department of the National Science Foundation. The VLA is made up of 27 gigantic radio telescopes, each 25 meters tall, which work together to observe various structures and features in space, such as black holes. The telescopes are spread in an arrow-shaped array across a huge field, where they are programmed to turn a little bit at a time, all of them at once, to gather information.
It's an interesting place to spend a few hours. You can take a walking tour on a path and get pretty close to one of them, standing underneath and looking up as it whirrs and hums lightly, ticking around ever so slowly. An anemometer (wind-speed gauge) protrudes from the very edge of the huge dish-shaped part (the wind on the field is not to be underestimated). The telescopes can be moved around the site on a dedicated railroad track, using caboose-like cars to push them into position. The site includes a museum, gift shop and theater, where you can watch an informative film before heading out for the walking tour. You've probably seen the VLA; Carl Sagan featured it in his documentary Cosmos, or maybe you've seen it in the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster. Just the other night, I saw a truck commercial featuring the VLA. This enormous pick-up truck was driving dangerously close to the telescopes. Watching it, I felt concerned, and protective, now that I've walked among them.
You may be wondering what I really thought about visiting the VLA. Well, the truth is that I don't know enough about astronomy, or any branch of physical science, to give you a good review of the experience. The telescopes are an awesome sight, for certain. I like knowing that I live within a few hours of a major component of the national observatory and that real research is being done here in my state. I also like having a chance to see things that really interest my husband, who is a systems engineer for a National Laboratory; he works mostly on GPS satellites at the moment. His work is classified; I can't visit him at work, and he can't tell me about most of what he does there. In our nearly two decades together, I have only had a few opportunities to see him in his true element, so that was actually really nice. And then there are the two smaller Bears, wondrous and terrifying - the boy who is already years ahead of his peers in math, and the girl who just soldered her first circuit board this weekend.
I guess what I'm saying is that it hasn't always been an easy road, and I know I'll spend the rest of my life trying to keep up with the three of them, but I've come to appreciate having experiences as a family that aren't necessarily every member's cup of tea. We don't have to love the same things to find value in them, or to learn from them together, or to appreciate each other's reactions to them. In a family, you make room for each other.