A scientific pilgrimage to Green Bank

Posted July 11, 2005

On my way back to Boston from visiting my family today, I decided to take a detour into the Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia. To be precise, I headed into the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone where the Green Bank observatory is located. My role was somewhere between being a tourist and a pilgrim: instead of journeying to see a great cathedral and bask in the reflected glory of God, I paid a visit to a similarly awe-inspiring construction built to capture whispers from the universe.

The main dish there is really quite impressive: it's the world's largest moving structure on land, and moreover it is a working tool. Compared to a "mere" decorative structure like the comparably-sized Washington Monument, the Green Bank dish has addititional constraints: its shape is maintained to a precision of a tenth of a millimeter, for instance. Its worth goes beyond the mere fact of its construction and existence and extends into the worth of the work it does and the discoveries it makes.

I didn't get any souvenirs, but it seemed appropriate that at a telescope I should merely gather a few photons to keep.