Science with the VLBA

The VLBA's sharp vision, or resolution, is an ideal tool for learning new things about a wide variety of astronomical objects and processes. The VLBA brings the capability for extremely high-resolution radio astronomy to more scientists than ever before.

The VLBA can show new details of the powerful cores of distant quasars, which spew out tremendous amounts of energy. It can make precise measurements of the speed of debris from exploded stars, known as supernovae. It can reduce the large uncertainty that still remains about something as fundamental as the size of our universe. Closer to home, the precise knowledge of each station's geographical position allows the VLBA to be used to study the motion of Earth's continental plates and thus processes that produce earthquakes and volcanoes.

Many of the VLBA's discoveries will be entirely unexpected. Even before becoming fully operational the VLBA produced unexpected results, including the discovery of unusual areas of silicon monoxide gas around old stars and a strangely-twisted jet of fast-moving particles coming from the nucleus of a galaxy 300 million light-years distant.

The universe is a laboratory unlike any we can build, with tremendous temperatures, pressures, densities and powerful electric and magnetic fields. The VLBA is one of our most powerful tools for gaining new scientific knowledge from this natural laboratory.

The VLBA is a national research facility, funded by the National Science Foundation. It is open for use by all scientists in the United States and abroad. Scientists who wish to use the VLBA send proposals to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, describing what they want to observe and the scientific benefits they expect to gain from the observation. These proposals are sent out to non-NRAO scientists for review and comment. Finally, a time-allocation committee awards observing time based on the relative scientific merit of the proposals as indicated by the reviewers. This process is typical of national astronomical observatories.

by Dave Finley
Page design by Jim Ogle