Thursday, May 14, 2009

No digital pictures, please

The advertisement in the back of the magazine claimed that Green Bank, WV, was home to the largest, steerable, land-based object: the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank radio telescope. ( With such a fantastic claim, we had to go take a look. Unfortunately, sometimes we really should plan ahead. The adjacent Science Center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We arrived on a Tuesday. (Note they are open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day)

Although the Science Center was closed, the grounds were open, and we were able to walk a mile or so along a curving road through a field of radio telescopes of varying size and functionality. Some were clearly not in use, noting the hawks that were nesting in the dishes, but the air conditioners hummed in others, and we could only guess as to what they were mapping.

The prize of the area is the 100 meter Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Frederick Law Olmstead couldn’t have designed a better approach to the telescope. As you walk the winding path, the looming giant disappears behind the tree line and reappears at a different angle, teasing the visitor about its true size. Along the way there are single-panel displays explaining some of the research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, as well as markers showing the relative distances of the planets from the sun – Pluto still ranks as a planet here.

Digital cameras and other personal electronics are not allowed in close proximity to the telescopes because of the interference.

2009 is International Year of Astronomy, so go out and explore your universe.

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