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Name That Telescope

The Very Large Array needs a new, more exciting name

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The Very Large Array in New Mexico (via wikimedia commons)

The Very Large Array, a collection of 27 radio antennas out in New Mexico, has a problem—it has a boring name. That hasn’t stopped the thousands of scientists who have used the array since 1980 from making observations of our universe. But with an expansion of the array on schedule to be completed next year, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs the array, has decided that it’s time for a change.

“Though the giant dish antennas, the unique machines that move them across the desert, and the buildings on New Mexico’s Plains of San Agustin may appear much the same, the VLA truly has become a new and different facility. We want a name that reflects this dramatically new status,” says NRAO director Fred K.Y. Lo. “The new name should clearly reflect the VLA’s leading role in the future of astronomy, while honoring its multitude of past achievements.”

Those achievements include: receiving radio communications from the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew past Neptune; key observations of Sgr A*, at the center of the Milky Way, now known to be a black hole; discovery of the first Einstein Ring; as well as contributions to many other investigations of stars, galaxies, black holes and other astronomical phenomena.

In addition, the Very Large Array has often appeared in pop culture, a perfect stand-in whenever a mysterious telescope might be needed in movies such as Contact, Armageddon and Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon. You may even have gotten the mistaken idea that the VLA conducted searches for SETI from the movie Independence Day.

There are several ways to go when naming a telescope. Name it after a famous person in astronomy, like the Hubble, or after a place, like Arecibo. Acronyms are always a favorite in science, like CARMA. Or you could be more creative and go in a different direction, perhaps making up something based on a future goal (the Planet Finder 9000?) or a dream.

If you’ve got an idea for what to rename the VLA, tell us in the comments below and also submit it here by 23:59 PST, December 1, 2011. The winning name will be announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas on January 10, 2012.

About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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