I had sent this to Chuck and Kreg at Technorama after we returned, and I have no idea if they’ll talk about it on the show or not, but I wanted to pass it along here as well.
While traveling around West Virginia the wife and I made a stop at Green Bank, WV, site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
While there we got a tour of the grounds and of the radio telescopes in use there, including the GBT, about 17 million pounds of telescope power, and the Reber telescope, which you can learn more about here:
Some of the interesting things about Green Bank that I learned on the tour, the town is in a “radio-quiet zone” to minimize interference with the radio waves. It was chosen because the surrounding mountains block most electrical interference, but to help even more, there’s no cell phone service within a 60 mile radius, they use all diesel powered vehicles to work onsite, since spark plugs cause interference. In fact, they have a fleet of vehicles that are over 30 years old that they use more often than the newer ones. Even the diesel versions of newer pickups, for example, have plenty of electronics in them that can cause interference. They have 2 microwaves on the entire base, and they are both encased in lead boxes. You are only allowed to use digital cameras from the main building site. On the tour, they take you right down to the big telescope, but if you want photos, you better have a film camera. We took some digital photos from a distance, and purchased a disposable film camera at the gift shop to get some close up photos, which we don’t currently have yet. It’s very interesting, they do a demonstration at the start of the tour, where they put any digital camera the group happens to have with them inside a Faraday cage, and show you how much interference is caused. They also do a cool demonstration with liquid nitrogen, showing you what happens to the air molecules inside a balloon when exposed to liquid nitrogen, before loading you up in the bus for the trip down to the site.
There are other, smaller, telescopes on site as well, including one involved in the SETI project, and one currently being used by MIT researchers, remotely from Cambridge.
One other interesting side note. On the site, they have a display of the solar system with flags for each planet spaced out relative to how the planets are spaced. So, as you enter there’s the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Earth all relatively close together, then the other planets show up way down the road in due course. Due to recent events, of course, Pluto is no longer considered a planet, so while the flag is still in it’s place to represent Pluto, it flies at half-mast. 🙂
Anyway, if anyone finds themselves in the area of Pocahontas County, WV, which has a number of nice state and national parks, and good skiing in the winter, I’d highly recommend stopping in and taking the tour.
What geek could resist? 🙂