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.

27 comments:

  1. How interesting! Don't know huge amounts about astronomy, but find the whole subject so interesting.

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  2. I don't know anything about astronomy either, Jennifer but like you, I would at least find it interesting to look at those things and maybe learn a bit about them. Sounds like your husband does some fascinating work...and that your kids will perhaps take after him!

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  3. I don't know much about astronomy either, so I'd be in the same boat as you. I know you enjoyed seeing your family enjoy them!

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  4. Lovely post about family and respecting one another. Great photos!!

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  5. I think that looks like a really amazing place. I agree that we need to show interest in our family's things.. I watch Pawn Stars for hubby and he watches Outlander for me. :-) ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  6. What a fascinating way to spend some time Jennifer. I've never known that much about astronomy but I think seeing those huge antennas and telescopes would be very interesting. Each one of our family members has completely different interests and strengths. I found it to be a learning experience for each of us as we tred to learn some of the things the others enjoy. Our oldest strengths were in sciences and her career is in medicine. Our middle son could do anything with computers and he's a software engineer for a start up company. The youngest is a language guru and he's fluent in Japanese and Chinese and loves to teach others. My husbands degree is in accounting. And I'm just me. Ha ha! The point being, everyone is very, very different. But we love and respect each other and try to learn from each other. I never even tried to keep up. I just appreciate each one of them.
    Blessings, Betsy

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  7. My 10 head old would love to go to visit he is space crazy really interested places like this

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  8. Astronomy is among my passions and would be excited to join you during this visit.Lucky you!!!

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  9. Very science fiction looking. I'm sure it was interesting to learn more about it. My college boy took an astronomy class his first year, so now he's like his mama, staring at the moon and the stars (and even sends me pictures :). Good thing your boy has a handle on math. Mine were great at it until they hit high school then it was kind of a downhill slide from there. I think your kiddos are a wonderful blend of you and your hubby.

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  10. Wow, what a great place. I know my little man would love it. I think it is important in families that we respect each others interests, and take time to enjoy them with each other. It doesn't mean we need to become an expert in that area, just show some interest and be willing to step out of our own boxes to share in the joy and love of their interest.

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  11. You're so right, Jennifer. You seem like a reading/writing person. Me, too!

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  12. I would find it fascinating but not 'understand' it either. Like you I am good with that, it is important I agree.

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  13. I don't understand it either but I'm sure Daniel would find that place fascinating as the degree he's taking, well, just finishing actually, is physics with astrophysics.

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  14. My knowledge of astronomy is in the Star Trek domain really.... but I instantly recognised the VLA. I would love to visit just to see how imposing the telescopes are and feel awed by these huge ears and eyes into space. Making room for each other is a great way to expand our own horizons. Still a small craft shop in a corner would be lovely in places like the VLA :-) Have a lovely week. x

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  15. I often feel like you do, only for me it's when I'm with my friends, who are mostly scientists and engineers and mathematicians. Don't quite know how that happened to a writer/teacher! I think it's good for the heart and mind to venture out of our comfort zones.

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  16. Seeing those you love in their element, having a fabulous time, is totally worth being a bit bored (not saying that you were, of course!). I've been places that don't particularly interest me but have ended up enjoying myself and learning something because the others were so engaged. It's good for us :-) The VLA is awesome, even if I don't totally understand how it works. Sam x

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  17. looks neat! I don't know tons about it either, but am glad for places that do study like this! it is wonderful in a family to share and make room for the others!

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  18. I love going to the football for the same reason. We only go to a few games per season of our local town team but watching Andy hold Meg above his head and watch her big smile is really worth it. Heidi and I like to people watch in the crowd!! Jo x

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  19. I haven't a clue either Jennifer but I would still have enjoyed a visit there they look amazing. :) xx

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  20. What a fascinating place. I can tell how much your children know about the way the world works, you and your bear are giving them such a great education. I'm so very impressed about the circuit board, it's especially good to hear about girls getting stuck into STEM stuff. Well done all! CJ xx

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  21. I certainly would find it fascinating, but like you would not truly understand it but that it what it so wonderful about family life sharing and learning from each other. You are a great example.

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  22. Honoring interests of members of my family has taken me to many places I would not have chosen to explore on my own. But like you, I know that making room for and trying to appreciate each other's interests strengthens us individually and as a family. The VLA is an impressive sight/site...even if I don't understand all the science behind it! Thanks for posting, Jennifer.

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  23. That looks like a really interesting place to visit. I love how your children are advancing in areas they love, you don't need to keep up with them just love them. They love you just the way you are and your steady love helps them to fly.
    Meredith

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  24. Hi Jennifer, thought I would write you back here instead of on my blog, to be sure you got my comment back! :) so cool that you lived in Brooklyn and went to that museum. I have not been to the museum yet, so I don't know what is inside it, but what you describe sounds like something I would love to see! Have a great day and thanks again so much for your comment!

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  25. I like seeing huge structures that dwarf me a bit, I'm not sure why. My boys have few interests in common, apart from music, but we all manage to accommodate each other ok. Often we do a 'one parent one child' system, so that the whole family isn't dragged along to something that only one person wants to do. It also gives the boys one-to-one time, which they enjoy. As you so express it so beautifully, we make room for one another X

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  26. This is so cool! I always think you guys seem like such an interesting, intelligent family who do really interesting things, like this. Something about those structures is a tiny bit creepy though, the way they're all facing the same way and with those legs - they look like they could all start marching off towards the horizon... xx

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Thank you for leaving a comment. It's so good to hear from you! I don't always have time to reply but I try to answer questions when I can.

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