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Green Bank Observatory, site for breakthrough WVU research and teaching, to remain open

The National Science Foundation has formally decided to keep open the Green Bank Observatory, a partner of West Virginia University and a key site for the University’s astronomy research.

On Friday (July 26), the NSF signed a “Record of Decision” for the observatory, located in Green Bank in Pocahontas County, which acknowledges that the facility will remain open with respect to a plan that sees reduced funding from the federal agency but formed partnerships with new stakeholders. In recent years, the NSF have discussed divesting the facility.  

“WVU has a longstanding and thriving partnership with the Green Bank Observatory,” said Fred King, vice president for research at WVU. “It has been key to elevating the profile of WVU to an international leader in astronomy and astrophysics research. Of equal importance is that it has provided us with a platform to excite secondary school students about science broadly while training and developing the scientists of tomorrow.”

The observatory includes the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. 

Breakthroughs to occur at the observatory have involved WVU researchers. In July 2018, professor Duncan Lorimer was part of an international team of astronomers to prove that a fundamental pillar of Einstein’s theory of gravity held true for objects with extreme gravity.

Maura McLaughlin, professor of physics and astronomy, also regularly uses the observatory for research and teaching. She co-founded the Pulsar Search Collaboratory to help West Virginia high school students explore pulsars, which are magnetized rotating neutron stars. 

At the Eberly College, a total of 10 astronomy faculty work closely with the Green Bank Observatory both for research and education. More than a dozen physics and astronomy graduate students also use the Green Bank Telescope in their research.

The NSF issued its record of decision following an environmental impact analysis and input from the public and the scientific community. The agency has urged the observatory to build partnerships with federal, academic and private collaborators to help offset operating costs traditionally provided by the NSF. 

The observatory is currently operated by Associated Universities, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit research management corporation.