One of the scientific wonders of the modern world may very well be The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA) observatory in New Mexico. For our Observational Astronomy course, Professor John Cannon acquired observations of a nearby galaxy from the JVLA to give our class of nine students a chance to work with radio data. After six weeks of rigorous instruction and research in radio astronomy, we flew to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) lab based in Socorro, New Mexico, to complete our research.
Although it is operated from the NRAO lab 50 miles away, the JVLA itself is located in a more radio-quiet region of New Mexico called the Plains of San Agustin. At first sight, the 28 telescopes of the JVLA were dwarfed by the expanse of the plains. However, once we climbed into a 25-meter dish, the scale of the 230-ton, 80-foot structures became truly apparent. The beauty of these structures lay within their shells. Each telescope contained electronics that could record a radio signal of less energy than that of a human hair falling a millimeter.
Through our tour and research, Professor Cannon introduced us to the essential aspects of conducting radio research and further fueled my passion to pursue a career in astronomy. The results of our project, titled “The Neutral Gas Dynamics of the Nearby Magellanic Irregular Galaxy UGCA 105,” have been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal; all nine of the students appear as co-authors.