Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Very Large Array

At the beginning of October, I visited the Very Large Array (VLA) located in New Mexico 50 miles west of the town of Socorro (127 miles west of Albuquerque).  The first time I visited this facility was probably some time in the early 80's so it was wonderful to see how much the facility had grown.    When I visited the first time, hardly anyone had heard of the place but the 1997 movie "Contact" changed all that.

Scenes for that movie were filmed on the site in September of 1996.  The film crew was there for 5 days and battled some inclement weather to get the scenes completed in that span of time.

Warner Brothers paid for all expenses and made a donation to the facility to help with public education efforts.  It was used to upgrade exhibits in the visitor's center and around the site.

The poster to the left had pictures and information from the filming.  The film producers were dedicated to technical accuracy but, they did take some creative liberties.  The scientists at the VLA do not listen with headphones.  They make images of astronomical bodies instead.

The VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and scientists working there are mostly looking for life-forming molecules and studying the formation and evolution of planets, particularly habitable planets.  The search for extraterrestrial life is left to the SETI Institute  which was founded by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.

There are 27 of these radio telescopes and they are spread out in a "Y" shaped configuration spread over 22 miles.  Scientists change the configuration approximately every 3 months.  They can be all clustered together covering less than a mile to the full span of 22 miles which is how it was configured when I was there.

I chose to visit on the first Saturday of the month when the VLA has an open house with guided tours.  The tour took our group into the control room where the scientist on duty talked to us about what he does while watching to make sure the telescopes are working together and sending data to the super computer next door.

Each of the radio telescopes are 10 stories high and weigh 230 tons.  The one above is set up closest to the visitor's center so visitors can walk right up to it.  I was particularly thrilled to stand under it and watch as scientists in the control center changed the direction of it's huge dish.  It was amazing to watch.

Visitors are welcome at the VLA every day but, the staff conducts tours and talks on the first and third Saturdays of the month.  Visitors are welcome to take self-guided tours at all other times.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Bellagio, the City

I experienced the city of Bellagio last summer for the very first time but, I was traveling with friends who have been there many times before.  In fact, it is one of their favorite places in Italy and it's easy to understand why.

Bellagio sits right on beautiful Lake Como in a perfect position.  If you picture the lake as an upside-down "Y", Bellagio sits right in the middle where the two arms emerge.

Many of the hotels and shops sit facing the lake as seen in the very top photo.  In fact, we stayed in the hotel in the center of that photo, the pink one right on the water.

The rest of the streets run up the steep hillside.

The hotel had a roof-top area where we spent a lot of time in the late afternoon, watching the ferry boats come and go or looking up the stepped streets to see fellow tourists on their shopping trips.

There were a wealth of shops along these narrow passageways where you could buy everything from fine jewelry to a bag a chips.

It's all here and just a few stone steps up the hill.

It would certainly be hard to find a prettier town along the shores of Lake Como or a better location for exploring in every direction.

And, in the evening when the day-trippers have moved on, the streets get quiet and those of us who stayed in the city could enjoy a slower-paced village atmosphere.

Positioning ourselves so close to the lake allowed us to watch all the boats zig-zagging across the water as well as a few swans who floated by to add just the perfect addition to all that gorgeous scenery.  It's very easy to see why this city has become so popular with locals and tourists alike.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Getting High in Milan

I posted about visiting the Milan duomo last week and this week I'm posting about the view from its roof.  Visitors can get a ticket to go up on the roof of the duomo and walk among the spires, statues, carvings and gargoyles.  The photo above was my first view after exiting the elevator that takes visitors up on top. I could see down on the plaza and the crowds below had turned to tiny dots.

The elevator takes you most of the way but, there are a few stairs left to climb once you are up there.  It's well worth the effort to be able to get lost in this breathtaking forest of marble and have a close encounter with a gargoyle.

Once up there, if you want, you can sit for a while and just admire all that beautifully carved marble against a sapphire blue sky.

At one spot, there is a telescope so you can get a close look at the beautiful Golden Madonna, the symbol of Milan atop the tallest spire on the roof.

I didn't need the telescope, I just zoomed in.

I was lucky that I to got see a work crew giving one of the hundreds of statues a bit of a clean up.  

While up there, it's nice to also be able to enjoy an outstanding view over the city.  There are not many public places with a view like this.  The top of the duomo is the best place to get high in the city of Milan.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Inside the Milan Duomo

I have to admit that I didn't expect to like Milan as much as I did.  I had heard too many people say it wasn't there favorite city in Italy.  I found the city to be beautiful with an amazing selection of architecture both ancient and new.  One place that I found stunningly beautiful was the Milan Duomo. What a gorgeous building.

The outside of the church is completely covered with statues and reliefs of saints and biblical scenes. It was hard to take it all in.

The inside of the church is impressive in size and stature.  I loved those pillars with the statues circling the tops.

The alter and tabernacle were impressive at the top of the presbytery.

The most unusual thing I saw inside the cathedral was the statue of a flayed St. Bartholomew.  He looks pretty creepy.

If you walk to the side of the statue, you see a head hanging behind him and what looks like a robe draped over his shoulder is actually his skin.  Yikes...that really is creepy.

I guess St. Bartholomew was actually flayed alive and beheaded for the crime of converting the King of Armenia to Christianity.  I'm fairly certain that the punishment did not fit the crime.

The statue was carved by Marco d'Agrate in 1562.  

Aside from the creepy statue of St. Bartholomew, everything else about the duomo is breathtaking.  And, when it was lit up a night, it was even more beautiful.

Next week I'll take you on a tour of the roof of the cathedral.  That was an experience I'm glad I took advantage of.