What’s in a Name? Astronomers Invite You to Submit One for Radio Telescope

By ABC News

Oct 14, 2011 7:50am
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Antenna galaxies. ALMA/ESO

ABC News’ Gina Sunseri Reports:

What’s in a name? Just ask Beyonce or Cher, who are so famous they only need one name. In space, Hubble is the rock star — its iconic images downloaded countless times, its discoveries that have changed what we know about our universe. Spirit and Opportunity have broken records exploring Mars.

Then there is the Very Large Array. VLA. It’s an iconic radio telescope array in New Mexico that explores the universe, and was a setting for the movies “2010″ and “Contact.” Bon Jovi shot the music video “Everyday” at the VLA. VLA uses its 27 satellite dishes to receive radio signals from galaxies, pulsars, quasars and black holes, and even tracked Voyager 2 when it flew by Neptune.

The Very Large Array isn’t what it used to be — it is being upgraded to be ten times more sensitive to faint radio emissions from around our universe. Experts say you can compare it to detecting a cell phone signal from Jupiter — a half-billion miles way.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory believes it needs a new name to reflect is new capability. Something sexier than Very Large Array is in order.

Don’t they remember what happened when NASA invited people to name a new module on the space station and Stephen Colbert got involved? NASA made a fundamental error allowing people to write in. Colbert mobilized his viewers to name the module COLBERT, and by the time voting closed one million votes were cast for him. His viewers clobbered NASA’s nomination process. Despite the overwhelming vote, NASA ignored the numbers and named the module Tranquility. Colbert did get a consolation prize — a treadmill on the space station is named for him. (Combined Operational Load Bearing Experimental Resistance Treadmill.)

If you would like to give the Very Large Array a more dignified name, an entry form for submitting name suggestions, along with rules, is online: http://namethearray.org/

Entries will be accepted until December 1, 2011, and the new name will be announced at NRAO’s Town Hall at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Austin, Texas, in January.

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