Two Weeks in the Quiet Zone…

Hello to those of you who haven’t given up on me ever posting here again! :-)

I’m slowly getting back to a normal schedule after spending two weeks in Green Bank, West Virginia, in the Radio Quiet Zone. What’s that, you ask? Well, I wrote a two-parter all about radio astronomy’s own version of “light pollution” and the great, great lengths we take to keep our sensitive telescopes from interference.

The first week, I spent my time with collaborators on the PAPER project. For quite possibly the first time ever, we had almost all of our group together in one place. Of course, we recorded this on film for posterity:

Don, Pat, Aaron, Rich, James, Jonathan, Chris, Danny, me, and Erin!

That is one of our 32 antennas that we have working together as an interferometer in Green Bank. We have a matching set of 32 out in South Africa being hooked up right now! The goal is to have up to 128 of these to detect hydrogen from the very early universe so we can learn more about the first stars and galaxies. These strange looking telescopes work from 100 to 200 MHz (just above the FM radio band!) I have recently been poking at the astronomical data from our telescope, looking for and identifying problems caused by the ionosphere, or the charged particles in the Earth’s atmosphere that can refract these signals before they reach us.

Once the PAPER team left, a group of undergraduates in various STEM fields arrived for the first ever Green Bank May Term. This 10-day program gave these students a chance to learn about astronomy, the NRAO, research, and STEM careers. We had, seriously, the brightest, most interesting, coolest students I have ever seen. Okay, maybe I’m a little biased. They got a tour of the GBT, various NRAO facilities in Charlottesville and Green Bank, and completed research projects with the 40-foot telescope under the guidance of graduate student mentors. By guidance, I mean, they survived us never answering a question directly so that they could get to the answer by their own means! I’m sure that drove them a little crazy, but they handled it well. They also asked incredibly probing and thoughtful questions, whether observing, on a tour, or during Tom Troland’s astronomy lectures (which are hilarious, by the way.)

Sue Ann shows us the feedhorns on the GBT on a very foggy day.

Finally, I took a day trip to be a fangirl around Frank Drake, the man behind the first SETI experiment, as he recreated his experiment on the GBT for a BBC film crew. Though I didn’t get a chance to actually hang out with him and pester him endlessly on the topic of SETI in prep for my Life Beyond Earth class, I’m hoping to be back there for a SETI conference in September.

Okay, now back to working my butt off so I can then keep up my blogging and start packing for my move to Lake Monticello next week and actually get some research done before my class takes over my life in less than a month! Agh!!

2 comments for “Two Weeks in the Quiet Zone…

  1. The Man Version
    May 26, 2010 at 07:46

    Why did you get to wear the Special Red Hat in the second picture? Were you being punished for looking around and not paying attend to Sue Ann? What was on the ground to your left anyway?
    :)

    Always good to keep up with what you’re doing. I’m glad there’s more to your life than packing.

    • May 26, 2010 at 11:05

      I’m sorry, all I’ve done on Twitter is whine about packing. It will be over soon.

      That stuff? Those are the tops of the feedhorns that receive different radio frequencies. Underneath the floor are the receivers that are attached to the feedhorns, recording the information and sending it down the telescope to the computer backends to make lovely, lovely astronomical data. The red hat? That’s to repel alien mind control beams. And that’s not actually me, though I have similar pants…

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