You have probably seen the huge telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia before, but just not realized it was located in West Virginia. Frequently the radio telescope is shown on commercials and in movies as a quick reference to space, science, technology and communications. It is the most technically advanced single-dish radio telescope in the world, according to The National Science Foundation. “It is the leader in the scientific study of pulsars, dense neutron stars that serve as laboratories in which astronomers study the physics of extreme states of matter and enormous magnetic fields. The GBT can also detect the fingerprints of atoms and molecules far into the distant Universe, yielding new knowledge about star formation, the structure and motions of gas in galaxies, and Nature’s fundamental constants.” – NARO
Nestled in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia in Pocahontas County, totally surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, is a US National Radio Quiet Zone. This zone encompasses 13,000 square miles in the states of WV and VA and prevents radio frequency interference from disrupting the telescopes in Green Bank (NRAO) and the US Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) in nearby Sugar Grove, WV. Don’t plan on getting a cell phone signal anywhere in these areas!
Once you arrive on campus at the NRAO, you can explore the outside and snap a few photos or have a nice picnic under the shade trees. Inside you will find a cafe and dining area, gift shop, restrooms, a self-guided exhibit and a staffed information desk with a registration form for guided tours of the property. Once arriving, be sure to register for the next tour which begins at the top of each hour, costing $6 per person and lasting about an hour. The tour includes a video and discussion about the telescopes at Green Bank and then concludes with a physical tour by bus through the campus. Many photo ops are along the tour but NO digital cameras are allowed due to the risk of interference. Be sure to bring a disposable camera or buy one before the tour in the gift shop.
The self-guided Space Center was full of information and hands-on demonstrations geared toward children but also quite fun and informative for adults. The NRAO at Green Bank sees approximately 50,000 visitors annually. You should allow for at least an hour, if not two, to fully explore the campus and take in all of the information. Stop by the cafe for a meal or snack and browse through the affordable and unique gift shop where you can find plenty of alien and UFO trinkets, lots of great books, t-shirts and other souvenirs that are all reasonably priced.
Visit the NRAO website for more information and for other things to do in West Virginia, visit Information West Virginia. If you are near the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia please be sure to visit!