Bishop Visitor Logo

Bishop Visitor's Center

The 130 foot dish at OVRO. 50 years old this year. 
Photo: Gigi de Jong

“Light takes time to reach Earth’s observatories from the depths of space, and so you see objects and phenomena not as they are but as they once were. That means the universe acts like a giant time machine: the farther away you look, the further back in time you see—back almost to the beginning of time itself. Within that horizon of reckoning, cosmic evolution unfolds continuously, in full view.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist.

Intro

It’s called “The Big Ears” and it’s picking up naturally occurring signals from outer space. The Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) has a variety of antennas which are collecting these signals. Just as optical telescopes collect visible light waves, bring them into focus, amplify them and make them available for analysis, radio telescopes collect weak radio light waves, bring them into focus, amplify them and make them available for analysis.

OVRO is a research facility of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). It was brought into operation in 1958 with one 32-ft radio telescope, which was built at the Caltech’s Palomar Observatory and relocated at the newly established OVRO. By early 1959, the first of two 90-foot antennas was operational and soon thereafter the second was listening to outer space.

90 footers. Then.

“The two 90-foot antennas of the radio interferometer at Owens Valley, shown here after the completion of the dishes in 1959, formed one of the largest and most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. Each dish alone was larger than any in the United States at that time.” ~ The Owens Valley Radio Observatory: Early Years by Marshall H. Cohen.

90 footers. Now.

In 1968 a 130-foot dish became operational at OVRO, which was originally intended to form part of an array of eight 130-foot dishes. But by the time the first dish was built, the National Science Foundation diverted funding to build twenty-seven 85-foot dishes in New Mexico. Nevertheless, the 130-foot dish at OVRO has produced valuable scientific results as a single dish as well as when it was paired with other radio telescopes around the world.

What Makes It Great

2018 marks 60 years of observation at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Little remains of that first 32-foot telescope, but the big dishes and numerous other telescopes, antennas, and arrays have expanded the reach and capacity of the facility. The scope of operation is extensive and world-class. OVRO now has the capability to ‘listen’ and analyze data using multiple different types of radio telescope technologies.

Looking to the sky. 130 foot dish.

The 130-foot telescope is still a vital instrument in radio astronomy 50 years after it was built. It is being used in conjunction with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to monitor nearly 1200 blazars every two days – from right here in the Owens Valley.

The Long Wavelength Array (LWA) situated at OVRO is a low frequency interferometer that is working in conjunction with another LWA in New Mexico. Together these arrays are studying ‘The Dark Ages and Cosmic Dawn.” The Owens Valley LWA is currently the most powerful radio telescope in the world, which operates below 100MHz.

Another array, the Owens Valley Solar Array (OVSA), is one of the largest solar radio observatories in the United States. This project is a world-class facility for solar research at radio frequencies from 1-18 GHz. This is an area of national importance as scientists begin to understand the Sun’s influence on the Earth and near-Earth space environment – a subject broadly termed Space Weather.

The Deep Synoptic Array, which consists of ten fixed-position 15-foot dishes, is searching the sky for very short, powerful radio bursts called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs). FRBs are enigmatic – we don’t know what causes them, how far away they are or even where they come from. Data from Deep Synoptic Array will allow astronomers to pinpoint the source of a FRB and help them figure out what creates them.

In what one of the astronomers calls ”the most technically challenging project we have ever done,” the CO Mapping Array Pathfinder (COMAP) uses a 34-foot dish to collect data to learn about galaxy formation in the early Universe. Further development of this project may see another four 10-meter dishes added for phase-2 of this study.

Who Is Going to Love It

This is a truly awesome facility to visit for aspiring and current scientists, astronomers, and anyone who has a keen interest in learning about our world – especially our extra-terrestrial world. A visitor could really ‘geek out’ at OVRO.

The beauty of this facility will not be lost on the less scientific and more artistic members of a family or school group. The location is incredibly beautiful with the majestic mountainous background on either side of these technological marvels. While much of the scientific data may be beyond the comprehension of most visitors, it is not hard to see how science and art are in perfect harmony out here in the high desert of the Owens Valley.

Looking south from the catwalk of the 130 foot dish.

The Season

The Owens Valley Radio Observatory is operational year-round, and the facility offers free public tours on the first Monday of every month – unless it is a holiday, then the tour is on the second Monday. Tours begin at 1pm and last about an hour. Reservations are not required. Tours for school groups and large parties can be prearranged for other times by contacting OVRO at (760) 358-6410.

The pulleys inside 130 foot dish used to change the angle of the dish.

A series of public lectures is also offered by the researchers and educators in astronomy and astrophysics from OVRO. Lectures are held once a month from August to December and are geared towards any member of the community with an interest in the sciences. The lectures are presented at the Bishop campus of the Cerro Coso Community College.

“All that’s required is an inquisitive mind!” ~ OVRO

Original computers still in place, but now it runs through modern computers and programs.

Directions. Parking. Regulations.

Located southeast of Bishop, the Owens Valley Radio Observatory is 6 miles from the town of Big Pine. To get there, take US Highway 395 to just north of Big Pine and turn East onto State Route 168. Travel for 2½ miles then turn left onto Leighton Lane and go about 4 miles and through the gate. After a sharp left turn go about 100 yards and turn right on Robbie Road towards buildings #12 & #13. Tours start inside building #12 at the east end of the observatory. Detailed directions and maps are available here.

For the geeks in the group the coordinates for OVRO are 37:14:02N latitude, 118:16:56W longitude at 1222 meters above sea level.

 

Coronavirus Special Message

Check out the Digital Bishop Visitor Guide!

Archived Stories

Tell us:

Follow Us on Instagram

Join Us on Facebook!

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons

22 hours ago

What's your favorite season in the Eastern Sierra?

Beautiful photo by @robert_lachman from October 12, 2019
#keepbishopsafe
... See MoreSee Less

Whats your favorite season in the Eastern Sierra? 

Beautiful photo by @robert_lachman from October 12, 2019
#keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I go every year! 2nd or 3rd week of October! Beautiful scenery and weather!

Fall

I was raised on the Eastern side of the Sierras. When I was young it was Summers. When I got a little older it was Spring for the opening of trout season. Now at 73 it's Fall...😊

Nice One!

Fall when leaves change and late summer when tubing in cut off’s by day with jeans and flannel by the fire at night

I have to say mid to late fall. Although mid spring is awesome as well. ✌️

Fall

Beautiful picture

Fall is the best...but the other 3 run a close 2nd!

Yes! 😅😁

We from Bishop

Fall🍁🍂🎃

Gorgeous

FALL...used to go up from L.A. EVERY OCT.

Autumn and Winter

Spring

Anything but fire season 😭

Love the fall leave. We try to go every year in October

Fall by far! I love the colors. We try to go every year in October for my husband's birthday.

In Bishop all of them. Bishop picture love this site 🙂🙂❤❤

So pretty

Beautiful

Fall

Fall for sure. Before the snow shuts the roads. And early summer. When it is just a little cooler. 🐈😷

Beautiful!

View more comments

3 days ago

With fires, poor air quality and COVID-19 all currently going on, who needs a little something to look forward to??
How about Wynonna for Labor Day Weekend of 2021!!
... See MoreSee Less

With fires, poor air quality and COVID-19 all currently going on, who needs a little something to look forward to?? 
How about Wynonna for Labor Day Weekend of 2021!!

Comment on Facebook

Lol whatever floats your boat Bishop. With way things are we might be in a middle of some other bs that will shut it down. I’m done hoping and waiting for “better” times to come.

its sept 21??!!

Can’t wait!!

oh next yr ugh

Looks like she needs an enema !

Mary Allegra Nicol

View more comments

6 days ago

Wishing all of the firefighters and emergency support teams a safe weekend. Thank you for all that you are doing!!!

Sending love from Bishop to all who are being affected by the fires. ❤️

This photo by Instagram user @sammyzz17 and is from February of 2018 when we had the Pleasant Valley Reservior Fire. Hoping that he and his crew are safe!
... See MoreSee Less

Wishing all of the firefighters and emergency support teams a safe weekend. Thank you for all that you are doing!!! 

Sending love from Bishop to all who are being affected by the fires. ❤️

This photo by Instagram user @sammyzz17 and is from February of 2018 when we had the Pleasant Valley Reservior Fire. Hoping that he and his crew are safe!

Comment on Facebook

🙏God Bless you all. I have been praying for rain to help put all the fires out and is in the forecast for some areas yeh!

God Bless all of you amazing men and women fighting these horrible fires. Stay safe!🙏❤️👩‍🚒👩‍🚒👍

Thanks guys!! Hope you all stay safe and return home to your families soon!!! Bless you all❤️

Wonderful pic.of these brave Firefighters! Prayers for their safety! 🙏🏻💕🙏🏻

Thank you to ALL FF's and Incident Command crews, Strike Teams busting butt out there. Love & prayers for All Your Safety from Santa Rosa 💜😷🐈

🙏 to all the first responders and thank you for your hard work.

Thank you Bishop firefighters for all of your extremely hard work!

A big Thank You To All Our Firefighters God Bless You And Your Families Stay Safe

Sending love and prayers from the Florida Panhandle. Be Safe! God Bless you and yours!

Thank you for your service. and God Bless You All .

God be with you all. Thank fort doing what you do

What a commitment! Thank you! Your work can never be repaid!!!

God bless you boys! Please stay safe!

Thank you God bless and stay safe

God Bless you all🙏☮️

Thank you all for what you do for us everyday 💗

Stay safe 🚒😊👍🏼

Amen

Ty

👊👍🤙😎🙏

Thanks to all the firefighters out in California, Oregon & Washington who work tirelessly everyday ❗️❗️. You are true heroes❗️

This is a spectacular photo, a real prizewinner! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thanks never were more than a few brave people

View more comments

7 days ago

To any of our Inyo County residents....Please take a minute, if you haven’t yet, to sign up for the Inyo County emergency alerting system, CodeRED. This will ensure that if there is a local emergency such as an evacuation notice or missing child report that you will be notified. Stay safe and stay informed!
Click on this link to sign up:
public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/DAD807D480BF

📷 by John Paul DeRousseau
... See MoreSee Less

To any of our Inyo County residents....

Comment on Facebook

Jack Lila McKinney just making sure your signed up ❤️

View more comments

Load more