Green Bank Observatory Science Newsletter, Winter 2022

Contents:

Greetings from new Observatory director Dr. Jim Jackson

Goodbye from former director Dr. Karen O’Neil

2022 training workshops

2022 summer student research opportunities

Observatory call for proposals: 2022B semester

Green Bank Telescope Quick Guides

Progress continues on new ultrawideband receiver 

X-Band Receiver reboot coming

New observatory staff

2022 educational programs from the Science Center

2022 Physics Inspiring the Next Generation Summer Camp registration now open

2022 educational programs from the Science Center

World-wide radio telescope network strengthens evidence for signal that may hint at ultra-low frequency gravitational waves

Massive invisible galactic structure is discovered by GBT–by accident

Do we understand gravity? The GBT says yes!

Green Bank Observatory, NRAO, and Raytheon Intelligence & Space test new radar technology on GBT

New funding supports development of GBT Ultra Wideband technologies & increases observation time for NANOGrav

NSF Funds NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center; GBT a part of five-year program

New instrument at Green Bank Observatory will improve localization of Fast Radio Bursts

How long is a day on Venus? Scientists using the GBT crack mysteries of our closest neighbor

New astronomical survey utilizes GBT to give clearest view of ionized gas in the Milky Way

Scientists using GBT uncover polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules (PAHs) never before seen in space

Green Pea Galaxies: Live Short and Prosper

Green Bank Observatory helps students make LIVE contact with International Space Station

Greetings from new Observatory director Dr. Jim Jackson

New Observatory director Dr. Jim Jackson standing at the dish of the Green Bank Telescope.

Although I only recently began my stint as the Green Bank Observatory Director, already I fully appreciate how lucky I am to work with such a talented, dedicated, and collegial staff. GBO, along with our partner AUI observatory the JVLA, was one of the few observatories in the world to remain fully operational through the covid pandemic. This is a remarkable achievement and reflects the commitment of our staff to support world-class science with a world-class facility. In addition, GBO continued to hire key personnel during the pandemic: 15 new staff joined the team, and 8 of these were interviewed and onboarded entirely on line.  As a long-time user and frequent visitor, I knew Green Bank was a terrific place to visit, but now I know it is also a terrific place to work. 

I am pleased that the observatory is in great shape. Thanks to Karen O’Neil’s leadership, the Observatory navigated a difficult phase in its history and secured the necessary funding for continued operations through a combination of NSF funds and external contracts. We are very grateful to Karen and wish her well as she resumes her work on the scientific staff.

In addition, GBO received a hearty endorsement in the Astro2020 Decadal Review as an “essential” facility to advance the US astronomy community’s scientific priorities. The Green Bank Telescope’s capabilities for pulsar timing in support of the NANAOGrav search for gravity waves was deemed especially important by the decadal panel. The observatory must now respond with a forward-looking plan to support our current science and to develop new capabilities to carry out even more ambitious programs.

To that end, we are actively pursuing enhanced instrumentation, such as our nearly completed ultra-wideband receiver, generously supported by the Moore foundation, and some possible new instruments such as a high-power radar transmitter and radio array cameras. Several training and scientific workshops, along with our bi-monthly community Zooms, will be offered in 2022 and I look forward to engaging with many of you online and in-person. We will redouble our efforts to engage with the community to support the best science and ensure cutting-edge discoveries for the coming decade and beyond.

Goodbye from former Observatory director Dr. Karen O’Neil

Dr. Karen O’Neil, Observatory director from 2006-21, at a celebration by staff in her honor. Karen stands in front of a poster designed for her featuring the Observatory’s most well known instruments.

Being director of Green Bank Observatory has been an incredible honor. The Observatory is a special place, with its huge range of science, exquisitely accurate instrumentation, and world-class education programs.  But what made being director of Green Bank Observatory amazing was always the incredible dedication and caring of the staff, something you can see day-to-day in the work people do and can hear from the community whenever visitors and observers comment on our work. 

During my tenure as Director, Green Bank Observatory went through many changes. The telescope’s high frequency performance reached its planned goals, many fantastic new instruments were introduced to the telescope, the science programs grew in ways we could not have imagined, and the education program saw a steady stream of excellent new programs and ideas. There were, of course, also incredible challenges – budget cuts, the threat of closure, and the need to reinvent the telescope to meet the community’s scientific needs while simultaneously reducing our budget footprint on the NSF’s Astronomy division. The challenges were hard, and there were times I feared for the future of our facility. But thanks to the incredible dedication of the staff we persevered, becoming a new organization (the Green Bank Observatory), with new funding partners and are now facing an incredibly bright future. 

With our future now secure, I have stepped down as director, though I will still be working within the Observatory, continuing to help ensure we meet the incredible promise of our facility and to help bring new instruments, new ideas, and new science to the astronomical community.  Thank you to everyone who helped Green Bank over the past many years and for the privilege of letting me  be director of this fantastic Observatory.

2022 training workshops

January 20th & 26th Green Bank Telescope Proposal Planning Workshop

The Green Bank Telescope (GBT) Proposal Planning Workshop will provide the essential skills and knowledge needed to propose for telescope time on the world’s largest steerable telescope. This workshop is intended for new observers as well as experienced observers interested in learning the most up-to-date capabilities of the GBT. We will be hosting a virtual workshop on Thursday, January 20th (2-5 pm ET) via zoom and an office hour on Wednesday, January 26th (9-10 am ET) primarily for those who cannot make the January 20th workshop to ask questions. Apply now.

February 16th-18th Green Bank Telescope Training Workshop

Applications for this workshop are open now and will close on January 18th. This will be a 2.5 day training virtual workshop (no in-person participation.) We have a limited number of spaces and will inform applicants of their acceptance by January 21. Apply now.

Observatory call for proposals: 2022B semester

The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) invites scientists to participate in the 2022B Semester Call for Proposals for the Green Bank Telescope (GBT).  The submission deadline for Semester 2022B proposals is Tuesday, 1 February 2021, at 17:00 EST (22:00 UTC).

The GBO would like to encourage low frequency (below 8 GHz) projects, especially those that may require significant amounts of observing time per source or field.

We would like to remind proposers that their submissions will be peer reviewed by a panel with a wide ranging background in astronomy.

Proposal preparation and submission remain via the NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST) available at NRAO Interactive Services. Proposers who need assistance with proposal preparation or have questions regarding the Call or GBT capabilities should contact Observatory staff via the Helpdesk.  Note that use of the PST and Helpdesk requires registration. 

The entire proposal call can be found here.  

We strongly encourage proposers to carefully read through the “News and Opportunities” section in the full proposal call.  

Green Bank Telescope Quick Guides

Quick Guides walk the observer from the beginning stages of writing a configuration and scheduling block to the basic data reduction process after the observations have occurred. These guides highlight various common observing methods and can provide a starting point for those new to the GBT and experienced observers.

2022 summer student research opportunities

Are you an undergraduate or graduate student looking for an opportunity this summer to expand your academic and professional experience, working alongside scientists and staff in the field? Apply for one of our research student opportunities! Green Bank Observatory has several programs that offer a research experience during a 10-12 week summer residency. Students receive a stipend to offset housing and living expenses during their experience onsite in Green Bank. 

These programs include:

  • The Undergraduate Summer Student Research Intern program is for undergraduate students or graduating college seniors who are U.S.citizens, are from an accredited U.S. Undergraduate Program, or are otherwise eligible to work in the United States. This experience is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program.
  • The Physicists Inspiring the Next Generation (PING) program was created to expose traditionally underrepresented minorities to radio astronomy science and engineering. As part of this program, PING mentors will also have an intensive education outreach experience, serving as instructors and mentors for middle school students during a 2-week physics/astronomy research camp with the Green Bank Science Center. PING mentors will also work directly with a Green Bank scientist or engineer for an 8-10 week research experience, very similar to the REU program. The PING program can also support students who do not meet the REU guidelines, such as foreign undergraduate students.
  • The Graduate Summer Student Research Intern program is for graduate students who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States, enrolled in an accredited U.S. Graduate Program. Graduate intern funds are subject to availability, and we do not host graduate interns in Green Bank every Summer. 

Starting dates for REU and internship positions are flexible, usually beginning in late May.  These positions can run 10-12 weeks, based on the arrangement made between the student participant and their mentor. Applications are now open and the deadline is February 1, 2022. Learn more and apply now!

Progress continues on new ultrawideband receiver

The ultra-wideband receiver being assembled in the Observatory electronics lab.

With funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and investments from AUI’s Corporate Resources, the Observatory has completed the design and fabrication of an ultrawideband receiver (UWBR) that will instantaneously cover 0.7 to 4 GHz. 

The detection of nanohertz frequency gravitational waves via pulsar timing is a key science driver for the new receiver. Impacts of COVID-19 delayed the project during 2021 and has moved the commissioning target to summer 2022. A new backend system has been developed that will process and record data in modes that are used for high-precision pulsar timing and observations of fast transients. The Observatory’s existing VEGAS backend has been enhanced to allow it to process the full 3.3 GHz bandwidth of the UWBR in high-precision pulsar observing modes. 

X-Band Receiver Reboot Coming

The Observatory Electronics division undertook an internal project to replace the existing X-Band receiver with a new design that replicates all of the existing X-Band receiver capabilities along with a slightly wider (8–12 GHz) bandwidth and higher baseline stability, allowing for observations of spectral lines previously outside of the existing receiver’s frequency range. This project was delayed during 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts, with plans for it to be commissioned in late 2022. 

New Observatory staff

The Observatory has hired many staff over the past several months. We are always looking for new talent! See what positions are available now.

Emily Moravec 

Emily Moravec joined the GBO team as its newest Post Doctoral Fellow in November 2021. She has visited Green Bank a few times before for observing with MUSTANG2, conferences, and talks. She was previously a postdoc at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Science, and prior to earned her PhD from the University of Florida. 

Bryan Jenkins 

Bryan joined the team in November 2021 as the new Telescope Division Head & Chief Antenna Engineer. Bryan is a Mechanical Engineer with a BS from West Virginia University Institute of Technology. Although a WV native, Bryan was most recently working in Alberta, Canada as the Lab Engineer for Navigator Environmental Corporation. Prior to his tour in Alberta, Bryan held several positions with large mining operations with Consol Energy in Pennsylvania.

Pedro Salas

Pedro, a current Post Doc at the Observatory, will join the staff as a scientist in February 2022. Pedro received his PhD from Leiden University. His work focuses on ionized gas in the Milky Way, star formation, high-angular resolution, and instrumentation of the GBT. He has an active role in the Laser Antenna Surface Scanning Instrument (LASSI) project, which aims to improve GBT efficiency for observations at frequencies above 25 GHz. 

Anika Schmiedeke 

Anika will join the GBO staff as a new staff scientist in April 2022. Dr. Schmiedeke obtained her Ph.D in Physics for the University of Cologne in 2016. Anika has served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics since September of 2016. She has been observing with the GBT and VLA instruments for numerous years in support of her research.

2022 educational programs from the Science Center

The Green Bank Observatory Science Center is looking forward to engaging with visitors in 2022 with many popular tours returning to the schedule, along with new virtual opportunities. Health concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and variants continue to impact visitor access to Science Center exhibits, bus tours, and in person programs. The Science Center is currently closed for in-person visits for the month of January. Please visit our website for the latest updates. :

2022 Physics Inspiring the Next Generation Summer Camp registration now open

group photo of 2019 PING campers
2019 PING campers rockin’ their tie-dye.

PING Camp (Physics Inspiring the Next Generation) is a STEMtastic overnight summer camp that actively seeks to increase the diversity of the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists. We are seeking current 8th-graders (rising 9th-graders), who are interested in science, engineering, math, and a fun and challenging camp experience. We are especially interested in recruiting youth from historically excluded and under-represented groups in STEM majors and careers.

This two week summer camp, from July 24th-August 6th, is open to 20 students who will stay onsite at the Green Bank Observatory. There is no fee for students accepted into this fully funded program. The deadline to apply is May 30th.

Learn more and apply now.

World-wide radio telescope network strengthens evidence for signal that may hint at ultra-low frequency gravitational waves

Artist’s impression of the IPTA experiment – An array of pulsars around the Earth embedded in a gravitational wave background from supermassive black hole binaries. The signals from the pulsars measured with a network of global radio telescopes are affected by the gravitational waves and allow for the study of the origin of the background. Image credit Carl Knox (OxGrav).

Massive invisible galactic structure is discovered by GBT– by accident

1-4: Typical narrow-line emission from the OH molecule from spiral arms. 5: A new, broad, and faint structure from the OH molecule–in and between the spiral arms. Credit: NSF/GBO/P.Vosteen

When it comes to the Universe, there is more than meets the eye. Astronomers using the GBT discovered a massive, previously unknown structure in our Galaxy. Researchers believe that this gaseous structure extends far into the outskirts of our Galaxy, and used OH as an alternative tracer of H2 to observe it. The late astronomer Ron Allen developed this research with Dave Hogg of NRAO, along with Philip Engleke and Michael Busch. This discovery was so unexpected, additional observations were taken using the Observatory’s 20-meter Telescope to confirm the data. Read the story and the original publication in the Astrophysical Journal. 

Do we understand gravity? The GBT says yes!

Artistic impression of the Double Pulsar system, where two active pulsars orbit each other in just 147 minutes. © Michael Kramer/MPIfR

The GBT was one of seven radio telescopes around the world whose combined observations of a Double Pulsar reinforce Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity .These results, published in the Physical Review X, come from a 16-year long experiment. This study of a pair of extreme stars revealed new relativistic effects that were expected–but have only now been observed for the first time.

Read the complete press release.

Green Bank Observatory, NRAO, and Raytheon Intelligence & Space test new radar technology on GBT

A radar image of the Moon’s Tycho Crater.

The Green Bank Observatory working with NRAO and Raytheon Intelligence & Space has conducted several proof of concept tests using new radar technology to capture high-resolution images in near-Earth space.

See GBT produced radar images of the Moon’s Tycho Crater and Apollo 15 landing site, along with complete press releases about the development of this project. 

New funding supports development of GBT Ultra Wideband technologies & increases observation time for NANOGrav

For the next three years, astronomers from NANOGrav will have increased access and new technologies to use on the GBT in their breakthrough scientific studies of gravitational waves. 

A new $2.3 million award from the Moore Foundation will provide over 600 hours of GBT observing time.This research will take advantage of a new Ultra Wideband (UWB) receiver and digital instrumentation for the GBT, funded by a 2019 award from the Moore Foundation and in development by the staff from the Observatory.

Read the complete press release.

NSF Funds NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center; Green Bank Telescope a Part of Five-Year Program

The NSF  has renewed its support of NANOGrav with a $17 million grant over 5 years to operate the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center (PFC). This program will make use of the unique capabilities and sensitivity of the GBT, a premier instrument for observing pulsars. 

Read the complete press release.

New instrument at Green Bank Observatory will improve localization of Fast Radio Bursts

A smaller version of this CHIME instrument – one “half pipe” – will be constructed at the Green Bank Observatory.

West Virginia University recently announced that a $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant will be used to construct a new telescope at the Observatory. This new instrument will be used in association with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, telescope, which is located half a continent away in British Columbia. CHIME’s focus is studying Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs. The new instrument at Green Bank will work with the existing CHIME telescope to triangulate the locations of FRBs.

Read the complete press release.

How long is a day on Venus? Scientists using GBT crack mysteries of our closest neighbor

Venus is an enigma. It’s the planet next door and yet reveals little about itself. An opaque blanket of clouds smothers a harsh landscape pelted by acid rain and baked at temperatures that can liquify lead.

Now, new observations from the safety of Earth are lifting the veil on some of Venus’ most basic properties. On 21 separate occasions from 2006 to 2020, radio waves were aimed at Venus from the 70-meter-wide Goldstone antenna in California’s Mojave Desert. Several minutes later, those radio waves bounced off Venus and came back to Earth. The radio echo was picked up at Goldstone and at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

Read the complete press release.

New astronomical survey utilizes GBT to give clearest view of ionized gas in the Milky Way

An international team of scientists took a new approach to their survey of diffuse ionized gas, or DIG, in the Galactic plane. Despite decades of mapping, there remain numerous unanswered questions surrounding the origin of DIG, its distribution, and characteristics. The new GBT Diffuse Ionized Gas Survey survey, using the GBT, gives the clearest view yet of the large-scale distribution of ionized gas in the Milky Way.

Read the complete press release.

Scientists using GBT uncover polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules (PAHs) never before seen in space

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules overlaid on the Taurus Molecular Cloud, a large blue-white cloud made of gas and dust with large and small stars of varying luminosities interspersed throughout. Aromatic molecule structures shown in order from left to right: 1-cyanonaphthalene, 1-cyano-cyclopentadiene, HC11N, 2-cyanonaphthalene, Vinylcyanoacetylene, 2-cyano-cyclopentadiene, benzonitrile, E-cyanovinylacetylene, HC4NC, propargylcyanide.

Scientists have discovered a vast, previously unknown reservoir of new aromatic material in a cold, dark molecular cloud by detecting individual polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon molecules in the interstellar medium for the first time, and in doing so are beginning to answer a three-decades-old scientific mystery: how and where are these molecules formed in space?

Read the complete press release.

Green pea galaxies: live short and prosper

Looking up at the night’s sky, twinkling with celestial objects, do you ever dream of discovering something new? How about something that sheds light on the early days of the Universe? A decade ago, citizen scientists, in the Galaxy Zoo project, helped astronomers discover a new and important class of galaxies, the Green Peas.

These findings, which have been published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Read the complete press release.

Green Bank Observatory helps students make LIVE contact with International Space Station

Observatory staff support students in making radio contact with an astronaut.

How would you feel if you could talk to an astronaut, orbiting over 200-miles above you in space? Observatory staff worked with Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), an international program using radio communication to make this contact possible. This rare opportunity is available to only a handful of schools – around the world – who must go through an extensive application process, working closely with staff and volunteers to assemble the resources required.

Read the complete press release.