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Radio Telescope Array To Reveal Cosmic Magnetic Fields

An upgrade to one of the world’s great radio telescope arrays is set to transform our view of the radio frequency universe

One of the great work-horses of modern astronomy is the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, a Y-shaped network of 27 radio telescopes, each one with a diameter of 25 metres.

Since it was built in the 1970s, the VLA has helped to transform our view of the universe. The array has created radio frequency images of everything from the Sun and planets to quasers, pulsars and supernova remnants.

But now that it’s more than 30 years old, the VLA is beginning to creak. Which is why it has been undergoing an upgrade to turn it once again into a state-of-the-art facility.

When this upgrade is finished at the end of next year, the new machine will be called the Very Large Array Expansion project or EVLA.

Today, Rick Perley and pals at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs the VLA, give an overview of the upgrades the old lady is in the midst of. They also outline the new science that the EVLA will do.

And it looks to be an impressive beast. The EVLA will have “vastly greater capabilities and flexibility than the VLA” say Perley and co.

In particular, it will be able to see the strength and topology of magnetic fields on a cosmic scale by looking at the the radio emissions they produce; it will be able to peer through the dust that shrouds many objects at optical frequencies and it will track the formation and evolution of nearby galaxies and galactic nuclei.

And best of all– this roller coaster ride of radio frequency data comes at a knock down price of only $96 million. That’s the astronomical equivalent of peanuts.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1106.0532: The Expanded Very Large Array - A New Telescope For New Science

Deep Dive

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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