NM Very Large Array Used to Develop Next Generation Antenna »Albuquerque Journal


The Very Large Array is located approximately 50 miles west of Socorro. The National Science Foundation recently awarded $ 23 million to the National Radio Astronomical Observatory to design and develop a prototype antenna for the next-generation super-large array. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

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Scientists say planned upgrades for the Very Large Array in New Mexico – which recently took a step forward with major financial reward – could help answer age-old questions such as:

How did we get here?

………………………………………….. ……………. …………..

Are we alone in the universe?

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $ 23 million to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to design and develop a prototype antenna for the Next Generation Very Large Array, or ngVLA. This antenna will be tested on the existing network of Y-shaped satellite dishes emerging from the high plains of western New Mexico, approximately 50 miles west of Socorro and, if approved, located at multiple sites. in North America.

To take a generational step forward, it is planned over the next 15 years to add hundreds of additional satellite dishes to complement the existing radio wave observatory. The facility began making observations from space 40 years ago.

Astronomers working at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio astronomical observatory say the ngVLA project will improve what is arguably the world’s first radio telescope system.

“Even in its current state, the VLA is by far the world’s first radio telescope installation. It’s been like that since it opened. It’s still amazing science, ”said Tony Beasley, the director of NRAO, which operates the VLA. “We’re talking about building an instrument, which is basically an order of magnitude more sensitive.”

The VLA currently has 28 satellite dishes, which detect radio wave signals in space. The plan is to increase the system to 263 satellite dishes.

A rendering of the antennas that will be used in the Next Generation Very Large Array or ngVLA. The antennas will be tested on the satellite dish array in western New Mexico. (Courtesy of Bill Saxton, NRAO)

Most new antennas will be around 60 feet in diameter with 20 foot dishes in the center of each structure. There will be a dense cluster of antennas at the current VLA site and other antennas spread across western Texas, eastern Arizona, and northern Mexico. There will also be distant branches in Hawaii, Washington, California, Iowa, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, according to the NRAO website.

“When all the antennas are very far apart, as spread across the United States, you can image a small region of the sky with incredibly high resolution,” said Eric Murphy, Project NRAO scientist for ngVLA.

The entire ngVLA project is expected to cost around $ 2.4 billion, with money coming from the National Science Foundation, U.S. government agencies and international partners, NRAO spokesperson Dave Finley said.

All antennas will be operated from the existing VLA site west of Socorro and an NRAO facility in the city, as well as a metropolitan area to be determined, according to the NRAO website.

The project will give the system greater powers to study black holes, galaxies and distant planets, Beasley said.

The next-generation network will also improve the system’s ability to search for potential intelligent alien life. Last year, the NRAO entered into an agreement with the SETI Institute, an organization dedicated to research.

The agreement allows data collected at the VLA during normal observations to also be analyzed by separate equipment built by the SETI institute. The system is called COSMIC: the Commensal Open Source Multimode Interferometer Cluster.

This project will allow the institute to examine massive amounts of radio observational data to determine if the signals could be artificially created, and a sign of alien intelligence in the universe, Murphy said.

“What the SETI system does is it looks… to see if it can detect a stable signal,” Murphy said. “As normal observation looks at this distant galaxy… these powerful backbone systems sit at the far end of the telescope and continuously monitor the data signal into the future.… It is constantly collecting data all the time.

Construction could begin in 2026 and the system could be commissioned by 2029, with full science operations expected to be operational by 2035, according to a press release from the NRAO.

NRAO has signed an agreement with mtex antenna technology gmbh, a German company, to develop a production-ready design and produce the prototype, which will be tested at VLA’s original site in New Mexico.

Construction at the current location of the VLA began in the 1970s and was completed in 1980. The antennas detect weak cosmic radio waves, which are much weaker than radio waves on Earth. The plains of Saint-Agustin, northwest of Socorro, were chosen as the VLA site because of its remoteness and because the area is surrounded by mountains, which act as a buffer to prevent radio interference.

Since going live, the system has achieved many major scientific breakthroughs, Beasley said. The rate of rotation of the planet Mercury, understanding the nature of collapsing black holes, and helping to record the world’s first photo of a collapsing black hole are some of the most popular projects. notables in which the VLA participated, he said.

Beasley said the expected improvement in ngVLA will help scientists try to answer questions about how life was formed on Earth and if there is life beyond our planet.

“So one of the big scientific arguments for the ngVLA is that we will have the sensitivity and the resolution to actually be able to make films of planets forming around nearby stars, young stars. And when we do that, we can also measure the chemistry of the materials that make up these planets, ”he said. “And so, you can learn whether or not there are organic molecules like water and simple carbon chain molecules, etc.”

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