Green Bank

Green Bank TelescopeGreen Bank is not an ATM, but a location in West Virginia with the largest moveable radio telescope in the world. It’s managed by the same consortium that runs Arecibo and the Arizona site (if you’re a fan of the movie Contact, you’ll know just what I mean). Also there’s a new site going up in Chile. All the instruments are listening to the universe.

I wasn’t keen on visiting, but wow! First, it’s huge, as to be expected. Second, it’s the heart of a National Quiet Zone. Never heard of that? Neither had we but then we began to wonder why we couldn’t get ANY transmissions at the cabin. No cell phone. No internet. Nada. Turns out we’re in the NQZ. But we’ve got it easy because the actual telescope is an hour away. Those who live within a 10 mile radius have it tougher. Congress passed some sort of act that, if strange blips appear on the telescope monitors, an official can knock on your door to see what you’re up to.

I asked if the locals objected to the restrictions and was told that the site supplied a lot of local jobs. Seeing as it’s in the middle of nowhere, I understand that might be a plus. In the summer, they hire local college students home on their break to paint. Must be much like cleaning windows on a skyscraper.

Note: We weren’t allowed to take pictures close up – too sensitive.
094The face of the telescope is made from panels the size of the king mattress. They are individually adjustable to focus the radio waves which are bounced up to the receiver on the top and sent to the lab where the scientists work. The dish can move vertically and sits on a circular track, mounted on big flatcar-like wheels that can rotate it. When it was under construction, the engineers realized that once mounted, it was there forever so the wheels are designed to last but the tracks are repairable. We got to see both motions as the scientists were evidently adjusting it for the best reception.

The tour began with a brief movie and a demo of freezing a balloon (I forget what it was for, but the kids in the group loved it when the balloon shattered.) They drove us out to the telescope in a van, passing many historical scopes scattered around the site. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth the visit.

There is a picture that I didn’t take and wish I had: a burly biker covered with little badges like a scout, each badge representing a Harley convention or get together. I always feel shy taking pictures of people (which see my endless scenery and ruins pictures from Italy on this blog…) The pictures below are of the wildflowers surrounding the site. I never could resist a flower…