The Observer: Volume II, Issue 2

2018-04-24 | Paul Vosteen

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Director’s News

Spring is here in Green Bank, at least in theory (and if it would stop snowing that would be nice). This means we are now ramping up for our influx of summer staff and the many summer programs which we host on site. From workshops on single dish radio astronomy for undergraduate and graduate students, to REU and internship positions, summer camps for teachers and students, amateur astronomy gatherings, Pulsar Search Collaboratory meetings and training, and the annual Space Race Rumpus bike weekend, there is something for almost everyone going on here during the summer months. During this summer we are also spending time looking toward the future of the Observatory. As you will see in the ASTRO2020 article within this newsletter, we are actively soliciting input from the scientific community to help us shape our future and working with plan for what Green Bank Observatory should look like in 2020 and beyond.

Enjoy Your Spring!
Karen O’Neil


Expression of Interest Invitation

Green Bank Observatory, LBO and NRAO invite submissions of brief Expressions of Interest (EoI) in PI-led “eXtra Large Proposals” (X-Proposals) for the GBT, VLBA and VLA requiring 1000 hours or more of telescope time, and running over multiple semesters (and possibly multiple VLA configurations).

X-Proposals are expected to be resourced by the proposing team. Projects should have extraordinary scientific merit and community legacy value, and will be expected to specify why the science goals cannot be achieved through the standard SRP/TAC process.

Responses will be used to gauge the level of community interest in such proposals, and their scientific potential. The observatories may not proceed to a Call for X-Proposals if, for example, there is judged to be insufficient community interest, scientific merit, or differentiation from Large Proposals.

The call for submission of EoIs is expected to be issued on June 1 with a deadline of July 11.

See the 2016 and 2017 NRAO User Committee reports for further background.

REU Students coming to Green Bank

Green Bank Observatory will be welcoming eight summer students in late May as part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program and the Physicists Inspiring the Next Generation (PING) program. Students will be joining scientific and engineering staff for 10-12 week research projects and professional development activities. PING students will also spend one week mentoring middle school students participating in a science camp at the observatory. This core component of PING is designed to enhance the participation of underrepresented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The Green Bank Observatory will also be welcoming a graduate intern working in the digital electronics group.

Astro2020 Update

The Green Bank Observatory kicked off plans for the Astro2020 Decadal Survey at the Winter AAS Meeting in Washington, DC. The effort started with the “Transformative Science for the Next Decade with the Green Bank Observatory” workshop in October 2017, which identified some key science drivers for the Observatory in the next decade. At the AAS meeting, Observatory science staff conducted an information-gathering session along with many of those very important booth and hallway conversations that spark new ideas. In January, we announced the Astro2020 activities for Green Bank with a letter from the Director to all who participated in the workshop and AAS activities to join the Observatory in crafting a series of science white papers in anticipation of a late 2018 call for papers. Science interests have been divided into seven scientific discussion categories and we are establishing teams for each category to identify key science cases and develop papers. The categories are:

  • Fundamental Physics (e.g. gravitational waves, general relativity, equivalence principle)
  • The transient sky (e.g. FRBs, SETI, Pulsars )
  • Stars & star formation (e.g. turbulence, magnetic fields, multi-scale molecular clouds, diffuse environments, ISM)
  • Galaxies & Galaxy Clusters (Milky Way and beyond) (e.g. cosmic web, HI extent of galaxies, galaxy structure, galaxy clusters)
  • Astrobiology & Astrochemistry (includes comets, SETI)
  • Planetary systems (e.g. sun, stars, asteroid, comets, exoplanets, planetary weather/atmosphere)
  • Cosmology & Large Scale Structure

Response has been excellent with more than 60 scientists and astronomy professionals signing up for one or more discussion groups. We encourage anyone with interest in future science at Green Bank to join the Astro2020 team. More information about the Astro2020 program and information for interested participants is available at on our ASTRO2020 page.

We hope to hear from you. We will keep you posted on the progress of the teams in upcoming newsletter articles.

Pulsar Watchers Close In On Galaxy Merger History

Fifty years after pulsar discovery published, massive new data set moves closer to finding very-low-frequency gravitational waves, researchers say.
Gravitational waves are wrinkles in space-time that stretch and squeeze the distances between objects. In 2015, a hundred years after Albert Einstein realized that accelerating massive objects should produce them, these waves were finally detected from black holes with masses roughly 30 times the mass of our sun colliding with each other. However, Einstein’s theory also predicts another kind of wave, one that comes from the mergers of black holes with masses of hundred million times the sun’s.

Read the full release

Astronomers Solve Cosmic “Whodunit” with Interstellar Forensics

On the outskirts of our galaxy, a cosmic tug-of-war is unfolding. The players are two dwarf galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud, both of which orbit our own Milky Way Galaxy. But as they go around the Milky Way, they are also orbiting each other. Each one tugs at the other, and one of them has pulled out a huge cloud of gas from its companion.

Read the full story

Solar System’s Largest Telescope Sees New Black Hole Details

a global array of telescopes allows scientists to see new details in Perseus A

Part of the global network of ground radio telescopes that participated in the observations. Credit: Paul Boven
( Satellite image: Blue Marble Next Generation, courtesy of NASA Visible Earth (

Using the RadioAstron Space VLBI Telescope, an international consortium of astronomers have been able to observe ten times closer to a black hole and see new details of the jet formation region of Perseus A. These observations challenge some of the current models by showing jets much wider than predicted. The Perseus jets are in their infancy and astronomers plan to continue these ultra-high resolution observations to see how the jets ‘mature’ and compare observations of other active Galactic Nuclei to see how these results compare with other black hole jets.


All of this is possible because the combination of the RadioAstron spacecraft’s 10 meter telescope in orbit between the Moon and Earth, combined with multiple ground telescopes, like the GBT which contributed to the Perseus A observation, is able to resolve details beyond the capabilities of any ground-based telescope or array. Whenever the spacecraft is viewable in our hemisphere, the science data and spacecraft data are conveyed back to Russia by way of the 140’ Telescope acting as a data downlink, often as the GBT is simultaneously observing the same source as the spacecraft. Green Bank is pleased to provide the vital data connection that make observations like these possible.

Coming this Summer – New GBO Post Docs

Natalie Butterfield and Will Armentrout join the GBO Scientific staff in August as our newest Post Docs. Natalie has been an NRAO Reber Fellow attending the University of Iowa, and Will is currently finishing his PhD at West Virginia University with advisor, Loren Anderson. We look forward to their arrival this summer.

GBT Publications, 2018

A complete list of publications are available on this page.

EPO Happenings

Green Bank Observatory Chosen for National Leap Into Science Project

A diverse group of educators from the Green Bank Observatory, West Virginia University Extension Service, Pocahontas County Libraries and the Morgantown Public Library System have teamed up to become The West Virginia Leap into Science State Leadership Team. Out of more than 20 applications from around the nation, West Virginia was one of four state teams selected.

Read the complete news post

Governor’s School Returns to Green Bank Observatory, under a New Name

After a two-year hiatus, the Green Bank Observatory successfully competed to host the West Virginia Governor’s STEM Institute (GSI) for the next 3 years. GSI invites students to delve into projects that allow them the time and opportunity to think and work like scientists and engineers, using high level mathematics and thinking skills while employing the latest technology. The Green Bank Observatory program “Investigating the Universe”, is an intensive two-week residential program that engages 60 talented rising ninth graders from all over West Virginia in radio astronomy research. Our program is truly unique in that is embedded within the day-to-day workings of a national research center. Our students will have the opportunity to join our professional STEM community; working in teams with scientist-mentors, rubbing elbows with undergraduate students, and using some of the most sophisticated radio astronomy technology on earth.

Physics Inspiring the Next Generation (PING) Camp Accepting Applications

The Green Bank Observatory also hosts a similar camp for rising ninth graders with an interest in STEM from all over the nation. PING is free of charge, except for travel (we do offer shuttle service to and from Green Bank from DC, and Charlottesville VA). We encourage applications from youth who are traditionally under-represented in the STEM fields. Please help us spread the word.

More information and application

New Employees

Andrew Seymour

Andrew Seymour officially joined the GBO Scientific Staff in January, 2018. He has been a visiting scientist in Green Bank since hurricane Maria stopped by the Arecibo Observatory for an unwelcomed visit. We talked to Andrew about his career, life in Puerto Rico and his journey to GBO.

Could you briefly explain your Scientific Career journey?

My career has been a bit of a “random walk”. After earning my undergraduate degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, I decided to go to graduate school for Physics. There I did research with lasers and optics, then moved on to Chaos theory, but eventually did my thesis work on Astronomy and Pulsars. After graduate school, I moved to Puerto Rico to use the William E. Gordon Telescope at Arecibo, famous for being in the films Goldeneye and Contact, to continue my pulsar work. While there, one of the collaborations that I work with found a millisecond extra-galactic radio source known as a Fast Radio Burst. Follow ups on this source have produced numerous events at Arecibo in the past three years. Yet, this is the sole source to date to repeat, and it is still unknown what is causing these events. All of which has kept the collaboration and me pretty busy.

What was the most fun about working at Arecibo?

Since Arecibo is in the tropics, there was a lot of beach fun to be had. Yet I think I had the most fun with my co-workers. It takes a special personality willing to move to Puerto Rico, and we grew to rely on each other. Be it through a hurricane or the uncertainty of a NSF-EIS, we learned to laugh our way through it all.

Were you involved with any of the projects where Arecibo and the GBT work together? If so, could you talk about them?

There are many projects that use the unique  capabilities of both the Arecibo and the Green Bank Telescope.The obvious ones are the Pulsar surveys and Pulsar timing projects. This is where measuring the radio burst from neutron stars can eventually detect gravitational waves from merging super massive black holes, like that found in the center of some galaxies. In order to achieve this, we need a large number of pulsars.

Therefore we want to search far and wide to find them. Arecibo was the largest radio telescope in the world, which allows it to search for very deep and weak pulsars. Yet because of its size, it cannot be tilted, limiting what part of the sky it can observe. Using the largest steerable structure, that is the GBT, is great for finding pulsars in the other part of the sky that Arecibo cannot reach. Arecibo searches the far, while GBT searches the wide.

What is the major difference between Puerto Rico and West Virginia?

The weather.

What are their similarities?

Puerto Rico and West Virginia have more in common than you first realize. Both have their unique dialects. The mountains can make it hard to get where you want to go. Not all the information you need can be found online. Be wary where the GPS sends you. Your cell phone might not work. In spite or maybe because of these “hardships”, both places have a tremendous amount of pride in the region they call home.

Upcoming Events

Remote Observer Training Workshops

May 24 – 25; September 17 – 18

Learn more

Single Dish Training Workshop, Formerly Single Dish Summer School

May 19 – 23
For grad students, post-docs and experts in other fields of astronomy.

Learn more

Chautauqua Short Course

May 30 – June 1
2½ day workshop, geared toward college faculty who teach at small non-research colleges or community colleges, and who have an interest in learning about radio astronomy research.

For more info, contact the GBO Education Officer, Sue Ann Heatherly at

Space Race Rumpus

June 8 – 10
Space Race Rumpus is weekend-long cycling festival, based at the Observatory that raises funds for a Community Wellness Center.

Learn more

Society of Amateur Radio Astronomy Conference

June 10 – 13

Learn more: []

REU Bootcamp

June 4 – 8
For all summer students at NRAO and GBO sites.

ALFALFA-U Workshop

June 19 – 23
This workshop engages undergraduates and their faculty on radio astronomy projects with the ALFALFA Survey data. The workshop is part of an NSF-sponsored program to promote undergraduate research within the ALFALFA project.

ESS Passport Workshop

June 17 – 30
Professional Development workshop to prepare WV teachers to teach 9th grade Earth and Space Science.

Learn More

For an overview of all upcoming local- and scientific-community events, be sure to visit our events calendar.

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