Heading into the mountains of Pocahontas County, one can spot the Green Bank Telescope from miles away.
Meteorologist Alida Donnelly went to Green Bank to find out what the scientists are discovering using the 100 meter wide Robert C. Bryd Telescope.
These scientists study different parts of astronomy, like astrochemistry, which is where they try to discover complex molecules in outer space.
“What we really want to understand is life and us, and how common life can be in the universe and how we gotten here onto our planet. And if you really want to understand that, you’ve really got to go and you got to understand what kind of complex molecules exist in the universe and you got to understand how common those molecules are. And what’s really neat about the GBT is every time we’ve gone out to do that, we’ve gone out to look at the sky and we’ve found these very very complex molecules, things like chiral molecules, and pre-biotic molecules, basic sugars. Big fancy names for molecules that just exist out in space and are the things you need to create life,” Karen O’Neil, Green Bank Observatory Director, said.
Research doesn’t stop there.
“The research I’m working on has to do with the formation and evolution of the Milky Way. Now the Milky Way is our home galaxy with several hundred million stars in it and new stars are being made all the time. One question is where is the gas to make the new stars coming from, so what I’m studying are these large clouds of gas that seem to be plunging into the Milky Way, bringing enough material to make a million new solar systems like our own, ” Jay Lockman, Principal Scientist Green Bank Observatory, said.
There are eight telescopes on the property. Now the original one was built during the 1960’s, during the space race, but is no longer operational. The GBT was built during the 1990’s and was completed in 2002, and has been operational ever since.
The Green Bank Telescope was about $95 million to build and took about five years to complete.
Using a quantum mechanics equation, one can determine a particle’s size from its wavelength. The GBT can pick up any wavelength ranging from meters to millimeters.
It has a collecting area of 2.3 acres, so it is a very sensitive telescope. Since it is so sensitive, it sits in the National Radio Quiet Zone, which protects astronomical observations from signals emitted by electronic devices.
The Green Bank Observatory is partially funded by the National Science Foundation. The GBT has over 6,500 observation hours, allowing hundreds of scientists to learn more about outer space.
“Well it’s really exciting. It’s a wonderfully exciting time to be doing astronomy, and radio astronomy especially. We’ve just learned so much over the last few years, over the last ten years, about planets around other stars like our own around through the Milky Way and about galaxies like the Milky Way came to be, ” Lockman added.
The National Science Foundation has been cutting its funding to the observatory over the past decade. The Green Bank Observatory’s future of uncovering more mysteries from space is in jeopardy if they can not receive enough funding.