Visiting the GBT

Will you be swinging through West Virginia any time soon? Maybe you are visiting family, taking a road trip, or hitting the slopes. Then don’t forget to visit the amazing Green Bank Observatory! It came to my attention through the NRAO‘s new twitter feed that the Washington Post recently had an article on visiting the great observatory to get away from the world’s problems and focus on the “Big Questions.” It’s quite good!

The author of the piece, John M. Thompson, picked the best time of year to visit, just when the fall foliage was gorgeous. To get a glimpse of that, I encourage you to wander over to the Flickr page of my friend and fellow astro grad student, George, and look at the pictures he took from a recent class trip to Green Bank. I love the Reber telescope next to that fiery orange tree!

At Green Bank, you’ll learn a bit of history, science, and engineering. Just as light pollution can spoil optical observations, radio light pollution, in the form of cell phones, digital cameras, and even car spark plugs, can seriously hamper radio observations. Despite the constant references to “noise” and “listening to the universe” in radio astronomy, we are still “looking” at light with the GBT and other telescopes!

Imagine if you had radio eyes, what would the world look like? Your cell phone might be a beacon, and the sun very dim. Radio station towers would be like huge spotlights! Radio astronomers look at the universe in this way and can see gas in the process of forming stars, gaseous relics of exploded stars, powerful jets from the centers of galaxies, the magnetic field of Jupiter, and so much more.

Read the article to explore through the author the amazing history, science, and technology of Green Bank, and don’t forget to visit if you are ever in the area!

Note on the article: It says, “The telescopes here detect radio waves emitted from deep space; that is, waves between audio and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum.” I’m pretty sure that “audio” is not a piece of the EM spectrum, it just describes sound, which is a different phenomenon altogether. Someone please correct me if I am wrong!