Across Appalachia

Green Bank Observatory Turns 60

Date: October 11, 2017

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Sixty years ago this October, the home of the future Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia was dedicated. The radio astronomy observatory, which views space through radio waves instead of the visual spectrum, has since grown from a small 85-foot telescope to the massive 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope today.

The observatory mapped the heart of the Milky Way in detail for the first time, found the first organic molecules in space made of multiple atoms, and helped discover dark matter.

Today’s telescope was built to be so sensitive that, according to Green Bank Observatory Director Karen O’Neil, it looks at radiation “less than the energy of a single snowflake falling on the Earth.” In August, the telescope detected a fast radio burst from a distant galaxy. While scientists see a neutron star as the most likely cause, Andrew Siemion of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center told National Geographic they aren’t ruling out the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

— Kevin Ridder

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