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The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a far-flung system of ten
radio-telescope antennas that, working together, produces the most
detailed images of cosmic objects available anywhere. Mauna Kea hosts
the westernmost of the 240-ton dish antennas in the VLBA. The easternmost
is on St. Croix in the Caribbean, and eight more reside on the U.S.
mainland. By combining the data from antennas spread so far
apart, the VLBA can produce images hundreds of times more detailed
than the Hubble Space Telescope produces using visible light. In
fact, if your eyes could see the same level of detail that the VLBA
can "see" with radio waves, you could stand in New York
and read a newspaper in Los Angeles!
The VLBA's sharp radio "vision" has allowed scientists
to measure distances and motions in the Universe with amazing precision.
Though it takes the Earth and our solar system more than 220 million
years to orbit the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, the VLBA can measure
that motion in just days. Using the VLBA, scientists have revised
their "yardsticks" for measuring the entire Universe. In
addition, the VLBA is a prime tool for studying stars in our own
Galaxy and for unraveling the mysteries of the supermassive black
holes that lurk at the cores of galaxies millions of light-years
The VLBA is one part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory,
which is a research facility of the National Science Foundation.
You can learn more about the VLBA and its work from the Very
Long Baseline Array Observatory's website.
The VLBA site on Mauna Kea Globe - Planet Earth
Images courtesy of NRAO / AUI