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Michael Holstine on the Green Bank Telescope and listening to the whispers of the universe


The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in Green Bank, West Virginia, US is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. It is situated in the National Radio Quiet Zone, a unique area where authorities limit all radio transmissions to avoid emissions toward the GBT. The location of the telescope within the Radio Quiet Zone allows for the detection of faint radio-frequency signals from the universe, which man-made signals might otherwise mask. The observatory borders National Forest land, and the Allegheny Mountains shield it from some radio interference. The telescope’s location has been the site of important radio astronomy telescopes since 1957. It currently houses seven additional telescopes, and in spite of its somewhat remote location, receives about 40,000 visitors each year, from high school students to PhD candidates to visiting researchers. Since October 1, 2016, the telescope has been operated by the newly separated Green Bank Observatory to deal with pending budget cuts. The telescope honors the name of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd who represented West Virginia and who pushed the funding of the telescope through Congress.