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Have you ever wondered where the giant radio telescopes in the 1996 movie The Arrival are located? Well, it’s HERE in Bishop’s Big Backyard at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory or OVRO for short. It’s also where Jodie Foster’s character Dr. Eleanor Arroway in the film Contact did her thesis work. And while films suggest OVRO is on the lookout for extraterrestrial life, it’s much more than that.

What Is It?

Owned and operated by Caltech, it’s one of the largest university-operated observatories in the world. It’s also true they’re called “The Big Ears” but not for what you think. Radio is a significant portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. And these telescopes pick up the natural occurring sounds from outer space. Much can be learned about our galaxy, history, and universe by studying these wavelengths.

OVRO has used its telescopes and other instruments for lots of projects. From improving the locations of radio sources in the sky to study hydrogen clouds within the Milky Way, galaxy formation, active galactic nuclei (“blazars”), fast radio bursts, and other radioastronomical phenomena. For an even deeper dive on the observatory, its history, and what you’ll see, be sure to read our Owens Valley Radio Observatory article.

See It For Yourself

If your children are budding scientists or you’re just curious about the world, the Owens Valley Radio Observatory is a must. OVRO offers FREE tours on the first Monday of every month. If it’s a holiday though, look to the second Monday for the tour. Tours begin at 1 pm and last about an hour. In addition, Cal-Tech’s researchers working at OVRO put on a series of public lectures by their researchers and educators. You’ll hear topics in astronomy and astrophysics at Cerro Coso Community College in Bishop.

Astronomy On-Tap

With so many researchers and educators in astronomy calling Bishop home throughout the year, Cal-Tech will host an Astronomy on Tap event at Bishop’s local brewery – Mountain Rambler. Each event consists of two ~15-minute informal science talks given by researchers in astronomy, physics, and space science followed by Q&A. The second half of the night is devoted to astronomy-themed pub trivia with lots of interaction with the audience.

With the Eastern Sierra being the perfect place to stargaze and plenty of things to see in the night sky, why not take it up a notch and learn what scientists are doing today with a visit to OVRO. If you’re a person that always asks the “Why?”, you won’t be disappointed.

FREE Bishop Visitor Guide

Flip through the pages of the new 2021 Bishop Visitor Guide! Or Request a Visitor Guide to be sent to your home or download today.

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