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Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope

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Management and Operation of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory FY2010-2015  (Associated Universities Inc/National Radio Astronomy Observatory)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) is the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. The 100-meter telescope is located at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's site in Green Bank, Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

The GBT has several unusual features. The wheels-on-a-track design allows it to be moved in different directions to view the entire sky above 5 degrees elevation.  Its single-aperture antenna allows incoming radiation to hit its surface directly, with no interfering supports in the middle of its surface. This increases the useful area of the telescope and eliminates reflection and diffraction that ordinarily complicate a telescope's observations. The GBT is also unusual in that 2,004 individual panels make up its surface, which can be constantly adjusted to correct for the effects of gravity. No other radio dish has an active surface of this kind.

Since radio waves penetrate dust, scientists use radio astronomy techniques to study regions that cannot be seen in visible light, such as the dust-shrouded environments where stars and planets are born and the black holes at the centers of galaxies. Radio waves also allow astronomers to track the hydrogen gas that makes up three-fourths of the ordinary matter in the known universe.

The Green Bank Telescope has been a leader in the study of pulsars, which are dense neutron starts that serve as a laboratory-in-space where astronomers can study the physics of extreme states of matter and enormous magnetic fields.  Observations with the GBT have contributed insights about the structure of our Milky Way Galaxy and the hydrogen gas clouds found in abundance in its vicinity.  The telescope also contributed to the discovery that Mercury has a molten core.

The GBT and other research telescopes located at the Green Bank site are part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which is operated by Associated Universities, Inc. under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

Education & Outreach

The Green Bank Telescope offers numerous opportunities for hands-on education and training.

The Green Bank Science Center is open year-round for day trips and even overnight visits. The 25,000-square-foot facility contains a Catching the Wave Exhibit Hall, 150-seat auditorium, and StarLab Classroom where visitors can experience hands-on activities in addition to guided tours of the telescopes. 

The observatory conducts formal education and training programs for K-12 teachers and undergraduate college faculty, in addition to programs for their students. These include a pulsar search, star parties, opportunities to borrow a portable planetarium, and NSF-supported Research Experiences for Teachers, in which K-12 teachers conduct hands-on research alongside professional astronomers and engineers.

For higher education students, the telescope offers the opportunity to study and train with professional mentors--through NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates, graduate student internships and research assistantships, co-op programs, and online courses.

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The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) is the world's largest, fully steerable radio telescope. It is located in Green Bank, W.Va., in a quiet, radio-free zone.

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