Anybody out there?

Tune in to the cosmos on a tour of New Mexico's mammoth radio telescope
Jonathan Hanson

The only thing more impressive than standing under a radio antenna dish 82 feet in diameter is standing under one that's inside a garage.

Twenty-seven dishes of the VLA (Very Large Array) radio telescope, each of which weighs 230 tons, sprawl on a three-spoke track across New Mexico's beautiful Plains of San Agustin. At maximum extension, the array is 22 miles across and capable of probing the depths of the universe for clues to the origin and makeup of, well, everything.

You can see the dishes ― and their 10-story maintenance hangar ― on a tour. To go on your own, start at the visitor center, open from 8:30 to dusk daily. A short video program explains the history and operation of the array, then a brochure guides you out to the base of the nearest antenna and to an observation platform where you can view the entire installation. Finally, just a short drive away is the parking lot for the VLG (Very Large Garage).

INFO: The VLA is 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico, just off U.S. 60. Free weekend tours are offered mid-June to mid-August; contact the National Radio Astronomy Observatory  (505/835-7000).