The Very Large Array National Radio Telescope is searching for new name, according to its director, Fred Lo; and the institute is looking to the people for inspiration.

Though the giant dish antennas, the unique machines that move them across the desert, and the buildings on New Mexico's Plains of San Agustin may appear much the same, the VLA truly has become a new and different facility, said Lo, We want a name that reflects this dramatically new status. The new name should clearly reflect the VLA's leading role in the future of astronomy, while honoring its multitude of past achievements.

The Very Large Array has its place in Hollywood history - actress Jodie Foster shot Contact at the center and some neat sounds from deep in the cosmos have been heard.

The contest, found at, is open until Dec. 1. The winner will be announced at the American Astronomical Society conference in January.

The VLA was constructed in the 1970s and much of the electronics that collects and processes the radio signals from its 27 gigantic antennas date from that era. The array has been used for more than three decades to tease out details of far-flung galaxies, supernovas and black holes - when not appearing in films.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) that runs the facility has, for a decade, been fitting it with state-of-the-art digital electronics, a new central computer and high-speed transmission lines to carry the data that the 25m, 200-tonne dishes gather. The updated system should be 10 times more sensitive to the faint radio hum from the cosmos.