Manchin announces Green Bank Observatory to remain open

POCAHONTAS COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Senator Manchin (D-WV) announced today that the National Science Foundation (NSF) decision to keep the Green Bank Observatory in Pocahontas County open. In 2012, NSF recommended divesting the facility. In response, as a member of the Appropriations Committee overseeing NSF’s budget, Senator Manchin made sure to include provisions in the 2018 spending bill preventing NSF from divesting itself of facilities and encouraging it to work with federal, academic, and private sector partners to develop plans for future operations. Today’s announcement shows that NSF listened to Senator Manchin and recognizes the importance of Green Bank’s scientific and educational activities.

“For 60 years the Foundation, Pocahontas County, and the state of West Virginia have supported the ability of innumerable national and international scientists to make discoveries about our Universe using the capabilities located at the Observatory within the National Quiet Zone. Over this time, the local communities have made sacrifices to keep the surrounding area radio-silent to ensure that the activities at the Observatory can continue without interference.  As we look to the future, I believe that the Observatory’s contributions to national and international science and the West Virginia commitment to this work justifies the Foundation’s strong, continued full-time support and presence at the Observatory,” Senator Manchin said.

Green Bank Observatory, located in Pocahontas County, was established in 1957 as the first site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).  In 2003, the 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable object in the world, went into operation.

In 2012, NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) recommended divestment of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) from the AST portfolio, stating that its “capabilities are not as critical to New World New Horizons science goals as the higher- ranked facilities.” On November 8th, 2017, NSF published a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlining plans to reduce its scientific activities at Green Bank from approximately $13 million to $2 million per year by supplementing funding from other sources.

In response, Senator Manchin worked to include language through the Appropriations Committee in the FY18 Omnibus preventing NSF from divesting itself of facilities, instead directing it to work with federal, academic, and private sector partners to develop plans for collaboration at the site for future operations. Similarly, language was included encouraging NASA’s use of GBT to support its orbital debris monitoring activities.

In 2018, NSF showed its willingness to invest in the future of GBO by awarding $1.3 million to implement a laser ranging measurement system on GBT that will measure any surface distortions very accurately, allowing the GBT to be focused precisely both day and night. This will increase the available usable time of the telescope at its highest operating frequencies by as much as 1,000 hours every year, with a corresponding increase in the scientific output of the GBT and its utility to the US scientific community for a broad range of investigations.

Tyler Barker
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