Google Maps and Astronomy

No, this won’t be about Google Sky or Google Mars or anything like that. This is just plain old Google Maps. I was dismayed to find that a topology map website I had used before now required your credit card information to view, but I still needed some view of our telescope site to plan one of my experiments. Our little proto-type array, called PAPER, or the Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Reionization, is situated in Green Bank, WV, also the site of one of the largest single-dish radio telescopes in the world. Last time I had checked, most of Green Bank was a fuzzy green blob. But now, the images have been updated!

First, a clear look at the Green Bank Telescope from above:
Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 10.21.20 PM
You can see the support buildings around it, and the little mounds where the laser surface system was being designed, and the huge shadow that it casts, showing its profile. Wow.

So I scoot over to our project’s site, in a field dubbed “Galford Meadow” and I’m floored by what I see.
google_Earth

This doesn’t look like much to most, so here’s the brief tour. At the upper left of the image is a white circle, and that antenna is known as 85-2, or the second 85-ft antenna that was used in early interferometry experiments. Coming from that is a dirt “road” to the center of the field, and that ends at our electronics hut. It houses the receivers, power supplies, computers, and a special computer for interferometry, called a correlator. The hut is in the center of an imaginary circle, and on that circle is where we place our antennas. These antennas are 5ft x 5ft wire mesh screens, painted white, with white wire mesh flaps on each end at a 45-degree angle, and a metal sleeved dipole in the middle. They are cute little things, really, and I was shocked to see them in this satellite image. Only two were in the field at the time this was taken (late 2007) and you can see them at the 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions on the circle.* PAPER can be seen from space! Right now, we have 16 of these antennas on that circle, monitoring the sky round the clock, and giving us a wealth of new data that we can use to image the sky at low frequencies and test our imaging algorithms. One of these days I will have to really write about PAPER, or you can wait for the April 2nd installment of the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!

After showing this to my labmates, we scooted over to one of our other favorite radio telescopes, the Very Large Array. Zoomed out, you can see the tracks that make up the arms of the interferometer that extend out to 13km. But zoomed into the center of the array:


You can see pretty fine details, even the arms of the subreflectors above the dishes! Wow.

So go ahead, type in your favorite telescope and see if Google Maps has some cool views.

*Images replaced with more recent versions after originals were lost.

6 comments for “Google Maps and Astronomy

  1. Kim
    November 8, 2008 at 09:09

    *Jealous.*

    I was initially studying physics in university so I could be an astronomer. But I was not as good at the calculus as I misleadingly was in high school, so I had to minor in it instead. :( Next year I should finally be able to afford my own telescope and my years of astronomical hiatus will be over!

    But enough of my jealous whining. :) Good luck with your experiment!

  2. Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum
    November 8, 2008 at 11:31

    The GBT image might be from aircraft, not from space. But you’re right, it -COULD- be seen from space, with a large enough telescope.

    But for topographic maps of Green Bank, stat here:
    http://www.cleardarksky.com/c/GrnBnkObWVkey.html?1

    Which is the Clear Sky clock page for Green Bank. Click on “Topo Map” and you get a low resolution topo.
    If you need a better quality one, try here:
    http://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/index.cfm

    This one has a nice readout of the lat/lon on it as you move your mouse around. The image quality is better than the one Clear Sky Clock links to, but the map is the same, with 20 foot elevation line resolution. But, hey, it’s free! One with 5 foot resolution would be nice, though…

    That kind of resolution might require a specially commissioned (and paid for) survey. I’ll bet that NRAO paid for just such a survey sometime in the past. They’ll have the map on file somewhere over there… Check the library there or at HQ to see. Maybe Lance Utley in the library can help.

  3. Nicole
    November 9, 2008 at 20:48

    Hehe, yeah, Kim, calculus can be teh suck. Good luck with your telescope! I never got quite good at handling one myself :-P

    Thanks for the links, Rich! And I will definitely go looking for those map files. It would make sense that they’d have something like that on file, either in CVille or GB.

  4. George
    November 15, 2008 at 08:39

    Yahoo's mapping program has older satellite images where it shows the GBT still under construction.

    http://maps.yahoo.com/#mvt=s&lat=38.432268&lon=-79.839432&zoom=17&q1=Green Bank%2C WV

  5. Ian O'Neill
    November 17, 2008 at 15:52

    Love it!

    I see your Green Bank Telescope and I raise you Goonhilly Earth Station: http://www.astroengine.com/?p=253

    Ah, the wonders of Google Earth :)

    It’s great to be able to overview the facility before going there. Looking at it on Google Earth, I planned my trip around what I could see from the air :-)

    Cool post!

    Cheers, Ian

  6. Ian O'Neill
    November 17, 2008 at 15:52

    Love it!

    I see your Green Bank Telescope and I raise you Goonhilly Earth Station: http://www.astroengine.com/?p=253

    Ah, the wonders of Google Earth :)

    It’s great to be able to overview the facility before going there. Looking at it on Google Earth, I planned my trip around what I could see from the air :-)

    Cool post!

    Cheers, Ian

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