Visiting the Very Large Array
Plan Your Visit to the VLA
HoursSite: 8:30am - Sunset daily
First Saturday Tours: 11am, 1pm, 3pm
Gift Shop: 9:00am - 4:00pm daily*
*closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Day
LocationThe Plains of San Agustin
Old Hwy 60
Magdalena, NM 87825
34 04'43.497N, 107 37'05.819W
Seniors (65+): $5.00
Children under 17: free
Socorro & Catron County Resident adults bringing an out-of-town paying guest is free.
The Very Large Array Radio Telescope facility is a two-hour drive from Albuquerque, 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. The Visitor Center features an award-winning film narrated by Jodie Foster, plus exhibits describing radio astronomy and the VLA telescope. A self-guided walking tour features large, informative signs and takes you to the base of one of the giant dish antennas. A gift shop offers VLA souvenirs and educational materials.
FREE Special Event Saturday, October 7, 2017: VLA Fall Open House, “Contact 20th Anniversary”
Join us in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the movie Contact, starring Jody Foster. We will be offering behind-the-scenes tours of the VLA, led by NRAO staff, and special talks about the filming of the movie at the VLA. Guided tours begin at 11 AM and run every half-hour, with the last tour beginning at 5 PM. Tours last approximately one hour. NRAO staff will be on hand around the VLA site to answer questions and interact with the public. Author Sarah Scoles and astronomer Jill Tarter, the subject of her new book and the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in Contact, will be at the VLA Visitor Center to sign copies of the book and engage with visitors from 1 to 3 PM.
The fun continues in the evening at Fidel Center, on the campus of New Mexico Tech in Socorro, where Sarah Scoles will interview Jill Tarter. Lecture and book signing is from 7:30 to 9 pm. There will also be a free star party at NMT’s Etscorn Observatory, beginning at dark and running until 11 PM.
No reservations are required for the open house or related events.
VLA Electronic Device Policy
When visiting the VLA, please have all mobile devices (cell phones, tablets, etc) in airplane mode and powered off. If you plan to use your mobile device to take photographs, you may briefly turn them on (while in airplane mode) to take your pictures, and then power your device off again once you’ve done so.
Please turn all WiFi and Bluetooth devices off as well.
Severe weather may force us to close unexpectedly. Please call ahead!
**Please note that the VLA Gift Shop will be closed Monday, September 25, 2017.**
**The Visitor Center and self-guided walking tour will still be open and available for regular hours from 8:30 AM to sunset. There will be no charge for admission on this day.**Gift Shop Phone Number: 575-835-7410. At the prompt, dial 2 to speak with a clerk. Gift Shop Phone Number: 575-835-7410. At the prompt, dial 2 to speak with a clerk.
The Visitor Center is open every day from 8:30am through sunset. As you enter, a sign will point you toward the theater, a good place to begin your tour. Here a 20-minute video presentation, produced in 2013 and narrated by Jodie Foster, provides an overview of radio astronomy, interferometry, and the VLA itself.
You will then want to explore our exhibits, to learn more about radio astronomy and the role the Very Large Array and other NRAO telescopes play in current research. A 5-minute silent video will show you how we move antennas. Near the back door you will find a brochure to guide you on the walking tour (view brochure).
Tours & Events
The walking tour will take you to our Radio Sundial (view brochure), past our Whisper Dish Gallery, on to our Radio Astronomy Gallery, and finally to the base of one of the 230-ton working antenna on the array! From there you will head toward the control building to climb up to the observation deck for a view of the array itself and details about the supercomputer processing taking place in the control building. The walk returns you to the Visitor Center where you are welcome to browse through our gift shop to take home some souvenirs. The gift shop opens almost every day at 9:00am and closes at 4:00pm.
We suggest you make a right-hand turn as you leave the Visitor Center parking lot and head for the tall yellow building, following the signs for the AAB (Antenna Assembly Building) Tour. As you cross the railroad track there is a parking lot on your left. From there you may view our 28th antenna that may be undergoing routine maintenance. You will also (most of the time) get to see one of the transporters that is used to move the antennas.
You are welcome to take photographs of everything you see, but please keep your cell phone turned off or put in in airplane mode (otherwise it interferes with our observing).
First Saturday Tours
The VLA hosts 45-minute guided tours on the first Saturday of each month at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. No reservations are required, simply show up at the VLA Visitor Center 15 or so minutes before the desired tour time. These tours last 45 minutes and take visitors to areas behind-the-scenes at the VLA. Staff and VLA Volunteers are on hand to answer questions. No reservations are required, simply show up at the VLA Visitor Center 30 minutes before the desired tour time.
The First Saturday Tour event culminates in an evening of free Guided Night Sky Telescope Viewing at the Etscorn Observatory on the Campus of NM Tech located in Socorro. The night time event begins at dark and lasts two hours, despite weather conditions, no reservations required.
For educational groups, we provide guided tours (if available!). We need at least three weeks’ notice to arrange a guided tour. To arrange a guided tour for your education group, give our Education and Public Outreach office a call at (575) 835-7243 or fill out the Guided Tour Reservation form:
First Saturday Tours in April and October are our free Open House Events. These guided tours beginning at 11:00 a.m. with the last tour beginning at 4:00 p.m. are free. These free tours are hosted by NRAO Staff last about an hour and take the Visitor through VLA Operations. NRAO Staff are on hand around the VLA Site to answer questions and interact with the public, plus we offer hands-on, family friendly astronomy activities too! Night Sky observing is offered at Etscorn Observatory on the campus of NM Tech in Socorro.
Upcoming Special Events
VLA Fall Open House: Contact 20th Anniversary
Join us for our celebration of the 20th anniversary of Contact!
VLA First Saturdays
Join us on the first Saturday of the month for a tour of the VLA. Get an inside look at the VLA operations and have your questions answered by NRAO staff!
The Very Large Array Radio Telescope facility is a two hour drive from Albuquerque, 50 miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Note that NRAO has offices located in Socorro, and entering “Very Large Array” into direction-finding services may sometimes direct you to this location. The VLA itself is a further 50 miles west from Socorro. Use the map below to get directions, or enter these coordinates into your GPS: 34 04’43.497N 107 37’05.819W. Please note that you will not have cellular or data reception within many miles of the VLA.
More To Do in the Area
Wondering what else to do while you’re in this unique area? There’s plenty more! Our neighboring city Magdalena offers art studios, shops, dining. To the west, Pie Town has pie.
Photography and Filming
As noted above, visitors to the VLA may photograph what they see from the designated self-guided walking tour. However, any filming or photography done by a commercial or professional entity, or that is done by anyone, amateur or professional, from areas not authorized for general-public tourists or outside the hours authorized for general-public tourists, is considered to be “commercial.” Such photography must be approved in advance, and requires completing an application process, coordinating with NRAO staff, and payment of fees.
There are no exceptions. Any nighttime photography or any photography from anywhere other than the designated walking-tour path requires going through the advance-approval process and paying all fees. This applies to everyone, amateur and professional alike.
Full information on commercial photography and filming, along with the required application form, is provided below. Please return application to dfinley at nrao dot edu.