Very Large Array Getting Even LargerThe 27 massive antenna dishes that make up the Very Large Array radio telescope have given us some astonishing glimpses into the cosmos (and have repeatedly detected signals sent by intelligent aliens in some of our favorite scifi films). As impressive as it is, the VLA is about to get a major upgrade. Astronomers are going to be able to do some amazing things with VLA 2.0.The VLA is an awesome piece of technology. Instead of building larger and larger dishes to receive distant radio frequency energy signals, astronomers figured out in the 1940s that you could build an array of smaller dishes that act in concert. You can "tune" the array by moving the dishes relative to each other (the VLA dishes, 25 feet across each, move on railroad tracks). But the VLA was built in the 1970s on a backbone of analog technology. The upgraded array, when completed in 2012, will be known as the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA). Personally, I would have gone with Very Very Large Array. Technically, the array isn't adding new dishes, but it is adding ultra-sensitive digital receivers and replacing the wiring between dishes with fiber optics. Most importantly, they're getting a new correlator. The correlator is the supercomputer that takes the signals from each dish and figures out how they fit together. All the new gear should make the EVLA about ten times as awesome as the original VLA, sensitive enough "in principle, to detect a signal as weak as a cell phone call from Jupiter," according to Scientific American. Image by: NRAO/AUI. "The New Radio Sky." [Scientific American, Sept. 2008]