VLA: Listening To The Stars

Very Large Array in New Mexico

For my son’s birthday, the family retreated to a getaway aptly named the Crow’s Nest. Sitting near the top of a mountain, it is a comfortable base of operations for day trips to some of our favorite parts of New Mexico. At his request, we changed our routine a little and took the long way through Albuquerque. This allowed us to pay a visit to the Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro where scientists listen to the stars.

If you’ve seen the Jodie Foster movie Contact, then you’ve seen the VLA. The movie gives it a different name and uses CGI to add antennas to the array. Despite the lack of cinematic special effects, it is a sight to behold. Twenty-seven large antenna dishes spread across a large, flat, ancient lake bed turn towards the stars and listen.

Maybe it was the child inside, that young boy who thought he might enjoy being an astronomer when he grew up, but this was spectacular. Scientists are able to use the VLA to “see” radio signals put out by various celestial bodies. This helps us to better understand the universe in which we live. So much happens around us that occurs beyond the limits of what they human eye can detect.

I want to listen to the stars, too. I want to understand those things that are beyond my normal sight. The problem is that I tend to be rather short-sighted when it comes to those around me. I do not like to encroach on the privacy of others, so I seldom delve beyond what is painfully obvious. As a photographer, this is a handicap I must overcome. To help you tell your story, I need to understand the message you are trying to tell. That usually means that, to some degree, I need to understand you.

Moving forward, I will be focusing a bit more on learning about my clients. I am not great at small talk and I never like to feel like I am prying. This has been a lifelong struggle. It’s time to overcome this obstacle.

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