NRAO’s Green Bank Telescope Receives New Funding

The National Radio Observatory has just received great news. It has secured a contract with a new organization to help fund the Green Bank Telescope. That telescope, known simply as the “GBT” is the largest and by far the most important telescope at the NRAO.

Dr. Karen O’Neil, the Site Director of the NRAO in Green Bank explains about the new funding contract.

“We just got to announce a brand new initiative here with the Breakthrough Initiatives Organization” says Karen. “This is a fairly new organization that has decided to contribute significantly towards the idea of going out and looking for intelligent life out there in the Universe. They’ve put forth a significant amount of money so that we can use the GBT as well as a similar telescope down in Australia and an optical telescope here in the United States. And use those three telescopes to go out and look for some sort of signal from intelligent life in the universe.”

The funding by the Breakthrough Initiatives Organization is very important to the NRAO at this time.

“As people may recall, about 2 and a half years ago, the National Science Foundation who owns this facility received a recommendation for the GBT’s funding to be removed from the National science foundation’s budget” Karen says. “In the last 21/2 years we have been working with the National science Foundation and others to try to look at alternate operating models as well as alternate funding models for the site. We have had some successes but this is by far the biggest and most exciting success we’ve had.”

This new contract will have a major impact of the facility at Green Bank as Karen explains.

“So this is a significant amount of funding towards the facility and also significant amount of long term funding for the facility” Karen says. “The current contract with the Breakthrough Initiative is for 5 years. The Initiative intends to go for 10 years if not longer. So that’s really incredibly exciting and really incredible positive.”

Karen says that the discoveries made during the search for extraterrestrial life will not be limited to just that.

“What is also exciting about this is that although the funding is going to pay for telescope time for this search for extraterrestrial intelligence at the same time all the data that’s coming in as part of this search is data that’s going to be made available to any astronomer, any scientist around the world that wants to look at it” says Karen.

Karen points out the significance of that.

“So even as we continue the search for intelligence life” Karen explains “we’re also going to learn a whole bunch about natural phenomena at the same time, things like pulsars, these fast rotating stars, things like that.”

When good things like this help stabilize the NRAO in Green Bank that also stabilized the community in Pocahontas County, as Karen describes.

“The facility here in Green Bank is not only a major employer in the County, employing between 105 and 145 people, but we’re also one of the significant tourist destinations in the county” Karen says. “Ans so the loss of this facility would have a major impact on the County. Having said that, I believe that this initiative as well as some collaborations we have with West Virginia University and a couple of other organizations are really showing we that we have a positive path forward.”

And Karen gives us a hint about that path forward.

“It’s really just a matter of continuing to expand our models for the facility” Karen points out. “and keep looking for new opportunities, but something like this that we have with the Breakthrough Initiative is a huge step in that direction. And I think it will show a lot of other organizations how they could join in, could help out the facility.”

It is obvious that the NRAO is really excited about this and Karen says they can’t wait to get started, which will be this coming January first.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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