Science Center at Green Bank Opens to the Public

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) announces the opening of the new Science Center at Green Bank, located on the grounds of the NRAO site in Green Bank, West Virginia. This state-of-the-art facility features hands-on exhibits, classrooms for visiting students, live science demonstrations, videos on astronomy, plus a café and gift shop for visitors.

The Science Center at Green Bank is open throughout the year. Days and hours of operation are Memorial Day weekend through the end of October, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. From November through May, the center will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

"The new science center represents a great leap forward in our ability to provide educational programs in astronomy and radio astronomy. Not only can students and the general public do more, and have more fun while they are here, but we have the space now to accommodate larger groups," said Sue Ann Heatherly, the NRAO's education officer in Green Bank. "So many people had a hand in this wonderful facility. A team of astronomers, educators, engineers, and museum experts collaborated on every aspect of the center from the interactive exhibits in the exhibit hall to the design of the functional spaces in the building. It is a special place as a result."

The new facility also serves as the tour center for the observatory at Green Bank. The free bus ride through the observatory takes visitors past the internationally renowned Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world, and the most massive moving structure on land. Dedicated in 2000, the GBT is now one of astronomy's most sophisticated and sensitive instruments for exploring the Universe, and a striking landmark set against the hills of West Virginia.

Funding for the center was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through two $4 million federal appropriations secured by Senator Robert C. Byrd in 1999 and 2000. Additional funding from the National Science Foundation, the State of West Virginia, and Pocahontas County supported the development of the exhibits.

"The observatory at Green Bank has been an important site for astronomical research since the 1950s when the National Radio Astronomy Observatory was first formed," said Phil Jewell, the site director for Green Bank. "In addition to the GBT, which is making outstanding strides in unlocking the mysteries of the Universe, our research facility also boasts a number of historical telescopes that have made critical contributions to the science of astronomy."

The historical telescopes on site include a full-size replica of the antenna Karl Jansky used to first detect cosmic radio waves in 1932, the first "true" radio telescope built by electrical engineer Grote Reber, and the 85-foot Tatel Telescope used by astronomer Frank Drake for the first-ever scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence at radio wavelengths, among others.

"It's fantastic that we now have a facility that communicates the excitement of our science to school children and the general public," said Jewell.

One of the goals for this new facility is to host every school student in West Virginia at least once before they graduate from high school.

"The Center will bring cutting-edge scientific knowledge directly to West Virginia students. Through collaboration with several West Virginia educational facilities, including the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, the facility will inspire learning and open doors to new opportunities and exploration for our young people," Byrd explained.

Additionally, the Science Center will serve as an educational destination for school groups from the entire central Appalachian region, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

To aid in this endeavor, the Science Center has full-time science educators on staff to guide students through the experience here, and to answer general and technical questions from visitors.

A centerpiece of the new Science Center is the 4,000 square foot exhibit hall. The exhibits are based around the theme "Catch the Wave!" which highlights both the physics of radio waves, and the fun of being swept along by the interactive displays. These displays are intended to immerse visitors in a real-world research environment, and to allow them to experience the enjoyment and wonder of science and engineering. Among the exhibits are a model of a pulsar that visitors can "take for a spin," wavelength demonstrations of various stripes, a 3-D view of the Constellation of Orion, and a working scale model of the GBT.

"When you visit the center," remarked Heatherly, "you will be able to control this eight-foot tall model of the GBT, simulate an observing session, and analyze the data that you collect. You get to be the astronomer. At the same time, through a connection to the GBT control center, you will be able to 'eavesdrop' on the science being done with the real telescope."

"The new Science Center will be an important link between the professional astronomers who work in the observatory and those students, amateur astronomers, and visitors who travel to Green Bank," Byrd stated.

The Science Center also is remarkable in that it was very carefully designed to prevent stray electromagnetic radiation from "leaking" out into the surrounding environment, and possibly interfering with research at the observatory. "Computers, lights, and other electronic equipment emit small amounts of electromagnetic radiation at radio wavelengths," explained Jewell. "The most important work going on at the NRAO in Green Bank is research, and we make sure that all the elements of the observatory, including the Science Center, are engineered to mitigate interference."

Visitors will notice the winding passageway to the Exhibit Hall, large metal doors, wire-mesh windows, and copper-clad walls in the computer center. These, and features you can't see, are important elements in helping to prevent interference.

In fact, visitors will learn that the site in Green Bank was selected by the federal government for the NRAO because of its remote location and high surrounding mountains - both of which help to protect the sensitive instruments from unwanted radio interference. Green Bank also is located in the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000 square mile area that was set aside by the Federal Communications Commission as a preserve for radio astronomy. Radio, TV, and microwave transmitters within the Quite Zone are built so their operations do not interfere with the scientific discoveries being made at Green Bank.

The site is located in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, on Routes 92/28, approximately 25 miles north of the city of Marlinton.

For more information, see for details on the Science Center at Green Bank..

Modified on Thursday, 16-Oct-2003 11:11:16 EDT