Suggest a new name for the Very Large Array

The Very Large Array is a spectacular piece of a scientific equipment with a less-than-compelling name. Located in New Mexico, you've seen this radio observatory pop up in the background of movies, album covers, and on Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

This year, the Very Large Array, which has been around since the 1970s, got some much-needed electronic upgrades and now the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs the Array, would like to rename it. Ideally, the new name should sound less like a Best Choice product and/or something produced by the Dharma Corporation. (We've got your "Canned Peas", your "Potato Chips" and your "Very Large Array".)

Entries will be accepted through December 1. The new name will be announced in January. The comment section will be full of sarcastic jokes.

Via Sarah Kavassalis

Image: Wikipedia user Hajor, used via CC


  1. “The Gigantic Electrical Radio Space Ears That Don’t Really Take Neat Pictures Like Hubble”

    (Catchy Acronym:  T.G.E.R.S.E.T.D.R.T.N.P.L.H.)

  2. Am I the only person desperately trying to think of something that acronyms as “VERY LARGE ARRAY”?

    1. Vast
      always by

  3. “The comment section will be full of sarcastic jokes.”

    Well, they can clearly dish it out, so hopefully they can take it, too.

  4. The “Holy Crap That’s a Big Array” array has nice ring to it.

    Kidding aside… Is there an array named for Carl Sagan yet? That would have my vote.

  5. Why not just call it the Sagan Array?

    If you need to make it an acronym, it would be the Sweet-Ass Gigantic Astronomical Networked Array.

    1. Yeah, as I recall it made an appearance in “Contact” as well as “Cosmos”. Name it after Sagan and be done with it. Unless there’s some sort of institutional rivalry resulting in NIH syndrome (“Not Invented Here”, not “National Institutes of Health”). Now let’s see: The Sagan Large Array? The Large Sagan Array? The Very Sagan Large Array?

      Oh well. Skip Sagan. Let’s name it The Large Boing-boing Array.

  6. The grad students where I work made a joke poster for the Super Huge Interferometric Telescope, which would actually describe this thing pretty well. Not the connotation, but the acronym. 

  7. Giant INterferometric Observatory Of Radio-source Mapping Array System – or GINOORMAS, for short.

  8. I’m trying to remember what the project was named in Arthur C. Clarke’s IMPERIAL EARTH, it was a space-based Very Large Array, basically.   It could see in all directions, and I’m thinking it was named after some Greek mythology figure or something.    But I’m blanking.  Maybe it was just Janus.

      1. Argus Panoptes (Argus “All-Eyes”), a giant with a hundred eyes. It would certainly be appropriate, especially with the Clarke connection as well. Yes, that works for me.

    1. Argos

      I thought we were saving that name for the moons of Saturn. Thinking back, didn’t the accident at the end of Imperial Earth happen at the (then very old) VLA? Or was it at a later telescope array?

  9. The “Just think, somewhere out there in the vastness of the universe, another civilization has an identical array of radio telescopes pointed back at us. And did you ever really look at your hands?!” Array

  10. Boo NRAO. What’s wrong with Very Large Array? It’s nicely descriptive, and pretty awesome in its own prosaic way. Not everything needs rebranding (I can just see them now: “ooh, ooh, could we name it Quikstar? that sounds hip and high-tech!”).

    (Don’t even get me started on the dumbass backronyms.)

  11. We should call it “YASNY.”

    You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

    Or “What they thought was big back before we discovered the first few signals.”

    1. No, it’ll be something more like “Subway $5 Foot-long Array”. With hand signals and another goddamned catchy jingle.

      And then everyone will still just call it the VLA, except for sportscasters, who will visibly cringe every time they say the name. (You think it’s a coincidence they’re basically never on-screen when they announce the stadium where the game of the day is being played?

  12. I suggest something that appeals to the voting public’s knee jerk response, and therefore ensures continued  funding.

    #1 :  Alien Sky Cannon
    #2:   i Earth –  instant messenger
    #3:   Prayer Booster Pro
    #4:  American Eagle Patriot Defense Shield
    #5:  Mothers for Family Values national Monument

    1. The Yo Mama-rray is so big, it grants funding to Congress.
      The Yo Mama-rray is so big, the centermost dish just picked up a TV broadcast from 1936.
      The Yo Mama-rray is so big, when it triangulates on a star, the triangle is equilateral.
      The Yo Mama-rray is so big, a scientist once fell from the top of a dish, and Congress passed legislation requiring his coworkers to catch him.

  13. I’ve always liked Very Large Array. Why change it? It describes what it is, which is more than a lot of names do. There’s something quite poetic about its prosaicness.

  14. O Array,
    Ooh, you are so big…
    So absolutely huge…
    Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you…
    Forgive us, O Array, for this, our dreadful toadying, and barefaced flattery…
    But you are so strong and, well, just so super.

  15. This seems a no-brainer: Which noted astronomers/astrophysicists/cosmologists, or educators in those areas, don’t yet have a ‘scope named after them? Among those, whose work was or will be most facilitated by the VLA, and thus is best to associate with it?

    Or just find someone from those ranks who is named Vila or Villa, so the abbreviation need not be changed.

    (I’m still waiting for the Sagan to become an official unit of something, with a value that can be described as “billions and billions”)

  16. The Quite Substantial Instrument. If that doesn’t work for the array, it would still work as a porno title.

  17. If a name change is necessary, I think the only reasonable thing to call it is ‘Vlad’.

    (the existing name is fine, I love it when scientists let their sense of humor show and they should leave it as is)

    The worst part about these naming contests is invariably something hopelessly sappy is chosen, and it was probably submitted by some 9 year old kid. It will either be dripping with patriotism, or function as a memorial for someone/thing.

  18. How about various peepers from literature?
    The Planatir
    The Guardian of Forever
    The Panopticon

          1. Very Unusually Vast Unique Zesty Enormously Large Array 

            It’s a great acronym, and a comment about how obnoxious our radio broadcasts probably are to the rest of the Universe. 

  19. Since NASA refuses to name anything after Neal Armstrong, I think they should name it after him.

    Besides, Armstrong Array sounds pretty cool.

  20. Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish Dish

  21. Get corporate sponsorship and call it
    The DORITOS® Spicy Sweet Chili-Flavored Tortilla Chips Very Large Array.

  22. technogeekagain said:
    (I’m still waiting for the Sagan to become an official unit of
    something, with a value that can be described as “billions and

    Might I suggest we start using the Sagan as an astronomical unit for 10 billion stars? We could describe the Milky Way as being on a scale of 20-40 Sagans.

    My thought is, for you to have “one” billions, you would need two billion. (In the same way that you need a minimum of two “dog” to actually have “dogs”.) “Billions and billions” would then imply, at very least, four billion. But since that’s an awkward number for a decimal-based civilization to use, rounding up to 10 (the building block of the metric system) seems quite… logical?

  23. I’m quite surprised, given the likely prevalence of old school gamers on this site that  no one went with “BFA”.

  24. Some people already jokingly use “Sagan” as a unit denoting 4 billion. “Billions” has to be at least 2 billion, so “billions and billions” is 4 billion.

    Personally, I’d like to see the VLA named after Carl Sagan, who certainly deserves some sort of honor on this scale.

  25. The people behind this idea are maybe a little too close to the problem, because the name “Very Large Array” is perfect.  It’s mysterious:  very large what?  Large compared to what?  How much bigger than large is very large?  

    It’s modest in a speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick way:  it suggests something like, “we could call this the Extremely Massive Array, but there’s no need for us to try and spook people.  But don’t cross us.”  And finally, it gives the suggestion that this is a tool for people who are serious, not dilettantes on the Internet who need to be entertained – while, paradoxically, entertaining dilettantes on the Internet.

  26. “Is That An Array In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me”
    “The Really Really Very Large Array”
    “The Not So Small Array”
    “The Fucking Ridiculously Large Array”
    “The What Are You Compensating For Array”

  27. How about Faye? The Faye Array. :D

    As an aside, I like how the comments/likes recieved thing glitches out periodically. Like I saw this just now: ” 109 comments 2364 likes received” and briefly felt VERY popular :D 

  28. Big Eye
    Bug Eye
    The Ant Hill (all those smaller things working together)
    The Latin Villa (ever notice how latin areas have tons of satellite dishes so they can get the spanish channels?)
    The Busybody
    Bowl Town
    The Universal AC
    Fistful of dishes

  29. A great example of the inherent futility of the Semantic Web.

    This thing already has a name.  A lame one, it’s true, because we should know by now not to officially name things “very adjective noun”.  But that lame name already has a significant body of existing associations (paperwork, websites, etc.), and yet we’re talking about renaming it, as though that wouldn’t be a total waste of time and effort.

    OK, I vote for “Emily” then.

  30. Very Large Array = VLA
    VLA flipped is ALV
    So I think we should call it Alvin.
    And it should broadcast chipmunk tunes, just to be extra-annoying to the universe.

  31. At first glance, I’d go with ‘Hip Hip Array,’ But Am I wrong for also wanting to demand a contest to choose a new name for the contest? “Suggest a new name for the Very Large Array!” has absolutely no pop and one exclamation too many.

  32. Bob. Wait, is this a boy array or a girl array?

    Seriously, what’s wrong with Very Large Array? It has a geeky straightforwardness I’ve always liked.

  33. I like the idea of a cosmological unit called the “Sagan”. As for the VLA, my first choice is:

    The Frickin’ Huge Array

  34. The Very Large Array is an awesome name.  It’s memorable, it describes the very large array perfectly, and it lacks pretention.  Lacking pretention makes the Very Large Array unique.

    Who wants a Saganscope or an iListen or an Al Gore Memorial Satellite Dish Field?  No one!  They want a very large array!  And that’s what you know you’re getting when you use or visit the Very Large Array.Keep the name!

  35. This makes me a little sad. I always loved the name of the VLA. I say they keep it. At least there is still the Overwhelmingly Large(OWL) telescope.

  36. In order to ensure continued funding, I think it needs some kind of TSA tie-in.

    The Alient Invasion Backscatter Protection Array

  37. I dunno, we could just name it Carl. Not an acronym, just… you know. Carl. 

    “What’re you doing today?”

    “Ah, I’m going to go see if Carl’s heard from the aliens yet.”

    “Right, cool. Later.”

  38. I’d go with Sagan Array, something Saganish,etc.  Why..?
    1. Why not?  It personalizes that project and might bring more attention to the SETI and radio telescopy in general.
    2.  Besides neologizing being fun, I think it would be cool if the term ‘Sagan Array’ went into general usage to describe large radio arrays.  If these things proliferate we are going to need a catchier term than, ‘that there clump of giant dishes over there.’  Two birds with one big ass stone.

  39. I suspect that they’re working on an even larger array and are trying to avoid calling it the Even Larger Array, so they need the name.  

    With that in mind, I suggest we rename it the Fairly Large Array.

    Or Emily.

  40. They should just keep it the VLA.  But if they have to change it I agree it should be named after Sagan.


    Up, up, an Array!

  41. They should call it the Virgin® Large Array just to see if they can trick Sir Richard Branson into thinking he agreed to pay for the thing.

    1. This reminds me of a gem of an antenna- the SATAN Tracking Antenna (seen here:

  42. The 100th birthday of Grote Reber, the eccentric pioneering radio astronomer, is coming up on 22 December.  He worked at times at NRAO’s Green Bank, WV, site, and people there still remember him.  So it might be appropriate to rename it the Reber Array.

  43. The VLA is far larger than either the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope or the Extremely Large Telescope. 

    I still like Array Of Unusual Size.

  44. If they name it Princess Marzipan Fluffytoes, it would save me the trouble of getting another cat.

  45. TWAIN? Technology without an interesting name. Still fairly bland, still fairly apt and still having a touch of geek humour… Or is that a lil too subtle?

  46. Pre-Peak Oil Big Government Oh Hey Wait *Socialist* Expenditure That We Can’t Afford To Run Anymore Now That We’re Out of Cheap Energy, We’ve Trashed Our Country’s Education System and Scientists Are Likely Planning a Mass Exodus to a Self-Respecting Nation That Doesn’t Consider Ketchup a Vegetable in School Lunch Programs and Creationism a Serious Alternative To Evolution in School Curricula… Array.

    Sorry, kinda drawing a blank on the acronym here.

  47. The Lewis Thomas Array:

    “Perhaps the safest thing to do at the outset, if technology permits, is
    to send music. This language may be the best we have for explaining what
    we are like to others in space, with least ambiguity. I would vote for
    Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We
    would be bragging of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best
    possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell
    the harder truths later.” – Lewis Thomas, ‘Ceti,’ “The Lives of a Cell”

  48. I like Valerie…and on the opening day we could blast out ‘Valerie’ by the Zutons (or Amy Whitehouse if you prefer)

  49. Don’t know about a new name, but just looking at the wikipedia page, it could do with some lovin’. eg:

    Popular culture

    The image of the VLA has become nearly iconic in American culture,
    though most persons do not know where it is located or what exactly it
    does. But it has appeared in much of pop culture since its construction

    1. That’s what I submitted on the VLA website — they give you an option to add a prefix to “Very Large Array” so I used “The” as my prefix.

  50. While I see no need to change the name really, I gotta boost the Carl Sagan Array (CSA) idea … He deserves it, and the VLA is an appropriate science instrument to honor him with.
    Carl Sagan Array, vote it up!! :D :D

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