RC Physics students visit Green Bank Observatory

by robb on May 12, 2017

A group of RC physics students (left to right above, Jacob Barfield, Eve Allen, Duncan Maclean, Gretchen Michaels and Lydia Tung) visited the site of the largest, steerable radio telescope in the world, which is only three hours drive from Roanoke.  In Green Bank, WV, there are over 10 different radio telescopes in operation, including the largest of these the GBT (Green Bank Telescope).  The collecting area of the GBT could contain two full-size football fields.

Located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, which does not permit microwave ovens or even certain washer/dryers due to the output of small-frequency electromagnetic radiation, the observatory contains several radio telescopes with different purposes.  Some are used to track the positions of near-earth objects like asteroids and comets, while other telescopes are used to study the presence of molecules possibly connected to life on other planets.

Recent graduate Jacob Barfield and current students Lydia Tung, Eve Allen, Gretchen Michaels, and Duncan MacLean were even allowed to steer a smaller radio telescope with only a 100′ diameter.  The crab pulsar was the target which can easily be viewed during the day time since radio waves are not interrupted by visible radiation (think, AM/FM radio stations).  Some of the most interesting thoughts were related to the size of the GBT, the amount of radio wavelength emission that originates in space, and the possibility of life outside of our own solar system.

It was a great day for asking big questions and showed vividly how astronomical study leads us into the unknown.