GREEN BANK, W.Va. (WBOY) — Have you ever wondered how we know what we know about the universe? Well, right here in West Virginia, sits one of the most influential places in the United States that gives us that information.
The Green Bank Observatory studies astronomy using the Green Bank Telescope, but this is not a typical telescope that most people are used to seeing.
“If you’re in your back yard and you have a telescope, that’s gonna be an optical telescope,” Green Bank Scientist Will Armentrout said. “It works at the same wavelengths as your eyes are sensitive to, so you can look through the eyepiece. You can’t look through our eyepieces here, right. The wavelengths are significantly longer. People are maybe familiar recently with the James Webb Space Telescope, that has wavelengths that are closer to the optical, it’s in the infrared, so those wavelengths are much smaller than what we observe here in Green Bank.”
More than 2,000 panels make up the Green Bank Telescope dish, which is approximately two acres in size or the equivalent of about two football fields. There are currently four telescopes in operation at the observatory; one is used for training purposes for students from across the country and the another has the ability to be used remotely from anywhere across the world.
For the scientists to perform these studies, they need everything to be super quiet, which is why they are located in the National Radio Quiet Zone.
“We don’t have the glow from streetlights interfering with us, but it’s like the glow from cell phone towers, and the glow from microwave ovens, and Wi-Fi, that is all adding to this general background noise that we see,” Armentrout explained. “So here in Green Bank, we are one of the quietest radio environments in the country and in the world. One of the ways that we have that is through the National Radio Quiet Zone and the West Virginia Radio Instrument Zone. So, we’re just trying to keep that background radio noise away from us so that we can see those super distant galaxies and star-forming regions.”
The telescopes are so sensitive that they can register your cell phone from as far away as outer space so, it’s important when visiting Green Bank to either have your cell phone turned off or to leave it behind in your vehicle.
If you’re interested in visiting the observatory, it offers specialized tours that you can sign up for that cover searching for extraterrestrials, learning more about the science of what is done there and more.
Green Bank Observatory is one of the few places in the world that has the capabilities of researching wavelengths throughout outer space.