NSF News

NSF awards cooperative agreement for management and operations of Green Bank Observatory

On Sept. 23, 2019, the National Science Foundation awarded Associated Universities, Inc. a five-year cooperative agreement for the continued operations of NSF's Green Bank Observatory (GBO). The agreement will support the full breadth of observatory research, education and outreach, including operating the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope.

"The Green Bank Observatory launched an age of pioneering work in radio astronomy and has been one of the National Science Foundation's longest sustained investments," said NSF Director France Córdova. "Using the Green Bank Telescope, scientists are providing critical insights into the nature of our universe. We are proud to announce the award of a five-year cooperative agreement that will ensure the continuation of this rich legacy of studying the cosmos."

Protected by mountains and the restrictions of the National Radio Quiet Zone and the West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zone, GBO telescopes are able to detect faint radio signals from space that would otherwise be overwhelmed by radio-frequency interference.

NSF established the GBO more than 60 years ago as the nation's first national observatory. The facility has helped transform astronomical research, from hunting the black hole at the center of our Milky Way to understanding star formation to pioneering radio astronomy techniques.

NSF's GBT, with its large sky coverage, very high sensitivity, wide frequency coverage and extensive suite of instruments, is a powerful and versatile telescope that continues to enable important advances in virtually all areas of modern astrophysics. The wide field of view and high mapping speeds of the GBT make it a highly efficient and sensitive survey telescope essential for discovering important new astronomical objects and phenomena. The GBT provides a key complement to radio telescopes such as NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array and the NSF-supported Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.

"The GBT is an excellent general-purpose instrument that enables transformative advances in astronomy," said Harshal Gupta, the NSF program officer for Green Bank Observatory. "Using the GBT, astronomers recently detected the most massive neutron star known, a discovery with implications for understanding the limit at which such stars collapse to form black holes."

Becoming fully operational in 2002, the GBT regularly captures some of the faintest signals from space, yielding insights into such processes as star formation, the formation of complex molecules, and the behavior of distant pulsars. The pulsar-observing capability is used heavily by NANOGrav, an NSF Physics Frontiers Center that is searching for long-wavelength gravitational waves. NANOGrav is one of many partners that currently help support observatory operations.

"Demand by the research community to use the GBT continues to increase, and the Observatory must develop new instruments and software to meet this demand and to ensure relevance of our resources well into the future. The new management award provides the foundation necessary for this development," said Green Bank Observatory Director Dr. Karen O'Neil.

On July 26, 2019, NSF issued its Record of Decision regarding the path forward for Green Bank Observatory after considering science priorities, the results of a comprehensive, multi-year environmental review that included input from the public, and other factors. This award implements the decision in a manner that will enable important future contributions to scientific research and education.