My Times with the 40 Foot

My times with the 40-foot are selfish ones. I’ve been in the bunker hundreds of times, often with teacher groups and student groups, but also many times alone. Those are some of my most cherished 40-Foot memories. Walking through snow from the dorm to the bunker in the early morning hours, sometimes lit by a beautiful moon, hoping to catch Orion. Bicycling towards the telescope late at night, worried about a collision with deer or skunk. Sitting for hours with that old WWII radio, cranking through the frequencies, looking at the Doppler shifted signals from the spiral arms. Working with Deb Hemler, Peg Romeo, and Aimee Govett as we tried to detect the HI from M31 (and finally, that early morning with Aimee when we tuned the local oscillators just right, set the dials correctly, and watched as the chart recorder showed us the extra-galactic neutral hydrogen). Carl, telling me (incorrectly) that I could treat the Sun as a point source. Sue Ann Heatherly explaining how to set the declination for negative declination. Ron explaining how to find the moon using ‘simple spherical trigonometry’ (then we got Stellarium and we no longer needed trig). Walking out of the bunker, looking up, and seeing the Milky Way.

Major upgrades:

  • the always changing chart recorder
  • the change from having to call on the phone for the exact sidereal time to just reading it
    from the computer
  • the declination dial reading correctly and not having to subtract 1 (which required rewriting the line in the 40-foot song: The Sun shines bright on my 40 foot array…)
  • a working restroom!

The experiences at Green Bank and more specifically the experiences at the 40-Foot and with its qualities and quirks are a most cherished part of my professional and personal life. For me, every peak, every tick mark, every flat line – they all combined to create and strengthen an unhealthy love affair with a 40-Foot radio telescope.


A Forty-Foot Telescope Story, by Nate Van Wey

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