The World's Largest Fully Steerable Radio Telescope
On Day #28 of our 30-day, 9376 mile, road trip to see more of America we visited the Green Bank Observatory and Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia.
The Green Bank Observatory is home to eight telescopes, ranging in diameter from 40 feet to 300 feet, including the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The Observatory has been a pioneer in radio astronomy since its first telescope, the 85-foot Tatel radio telescope, was built in 1959. The observatory also has a number of test instruments, including Little Big Horn, a calibration instrument built down the side of a hill.
To support their radio telescopes the Observatory has a full complement of radio receivers capturing frequencies as low as 290 MHz to as high as 115 GHz. The GBT’s specific suite of receivers spans 100 MHz to 100 GHz, and its processors can spot nanosecond timing differences in the signals collected by its giant 2.3-acre dish.
The GBT is 485 feet tall and weighs 8,400 tons. To enhance its collection capabilities the telescope has 2,209 active surface actuators - small motors used to adjust the position of the 2,004 surface panels on the telescope’s 330 by 365 foot collection surface. The panels are made from aluminum manufactured to a surface tolerance of less than 0.0020 inches.
The Green Bank Observatory is located near the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) which provides protection from permanent, fixed, licensed radio transmitters. Surrounded by Monongahela National Forest, and the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, the Observatory’s operations are well protected from extraneous radio signals. There is even a West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zoning Act which allows the Observatory to prohibit the use of any electrical equipment within a ten mile radius which causes any interference to Radio Astronomical Observations.
A few of the Observatory’s notable scientific accomplishments are:
In addition to “normal” astronomical observations the GBT is associated with the “Breakthrough Listen” project which searches for radio signals emitted by extraterrestrials. In 2017, the GBT was used to scan ʻOumuamua, the first known interstellar object passing through our Solar System, for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
The Green Bank Telescope is a sight to behold and its massive white framework provides a stunning contrast when viewed against the green mountains of West Virginia. (click on any photo to start the slideshow):
Here are some photos that have been generated based on the GBT’s radio observations of space (click on any photo to start the slideshow):
If you want to learn more about the Green Bank Observatory and Telescope here are a few links to check out:
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