On to Science...
The Very Large Array (VLA) is different than what one may be used to when it comes to ground based astronomy. We often think of Radio or Optical telescopes as being fixed in place, and as having only the ability to change which part of the sky they are aiming toward. The VLA is much more flexible than the traditional radio telescopes. See, the twenty seven radio telescopes are positioned on railroad tracks, forming a huge Y.
These tracks, each of which is 13 miles long, give this radio telescope the ability to change positions. This allows the VLA to select a specific angular resolution based on the needs of the projects being pursued. A very unique and useful feature for a radio telescope, for sure. This gives the 27 telescopes that make up the VLA the ability to have a baseline of anywhere from 600 meters to 36 kilometers, producing an angular resolution from 0.05 arc-seconds up to 7 millimeters. This type of flexibility makes the VLA still one of the most important astronomical sites in the world.
The VLA has been a powerful tool in the belt of the many skilled astronomers and scientists who have had the opportunity to use it. The array of different objects that it has been used to study is stunning. Its ears have been tuned to things near, such as the Sun and the planets madly spinning around it. It was used in 1989 to listen to the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it was streaking by Neptune. Things afar have also been in the range of its extra sensitive equipment. It has been tuned into radio galaxies, black holes, quasars, pulsars, supernovas, gamma ray bursts, and even the hydrogen gas that makes up much of our galaxy. Even farther still, the VLA has been eavesdropping on galaxies providing rich data that continues to expand our knowledge and the workings of the universe.
The VLA and other radio telescopes are providing information that is helping science to answer some of the most important questions facing astronomy. When and how did galaxies form in the early universe? How do supermassive black holes form at the center of most galaxies? How are stars and planets born in general? The answers to these questions will have profound effects on our understanding of the universe and its workings.