The Green Bank Observatory

The Green Bank Observatory is magical.  To start simply – just from using your senses you can see the beauty – the juxtaposition of the technological wonders of each decade represented by each of the telescopes against the majestic, quiet mountains.  Imagine taking a walk down the Observatory Road – listening to the breeze whispering through the pines, seeing the sun reflect at different angles off the hills and the telescopes – when ever so quietly, one of the telescopes turns to its next observing target.  Right there and then – in the peace and beauty of your evening stroll – it could be that the next discovery of an exotic binary pulsar system, the secret to dark matter – or even the first sign that we are not alone – could be happening.  That is exciting, awe inspiring – Magic.

Looking out from behind the visitors desk in the Science Center – you see people from all over – maybe nearby Virginia, or further Canada or even further Great Britain – stopping by to see just what is this place with curiosity written across their faces.  They eagerly accept an invitation for a tour or a walk through and – upon returning – inevitably are smiling and excited about what they have just learned – full of praise and “I had no idea” type comments.  That curiosity converted to a renewed or enhanced enthusiasm for the possibilities of scientific understanding and discovery along with their recognition of the world class facility that they just discovered– is Magic.

During a working day, stroll through a tour, a conference, a science talk at the Jansky Lab – and you will feel you are immersed in the middle of a metropolitan city – bustle aside – where diversity is all around – people from all over the world are busy conveying their thoughts, research, and ideas.  While many may speak from their native lands such as Germany, China, Great Britain, Australia, South America -on and on –the language that is spoken is common, specific to their craft – one of complicated scientific terms and concepts.  Yet, even though you might not understand at first – each is eager to explain and bring you along into their world.  The beauty of the diversity working together and being so inclusive to those who are curious – young or old – is Magic.

If you are of a certain age, and even if you are not, this place is hallowed grounds for those fans of Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.  To visit the ‘Drake’ lounge where they wrote the famous Drake equation or recently hear Dr. Alex Wolscszan of PENN state, quietly talk about how he discovered the first exoplanet which just so happened to be around a pulsar – that is Magic.

Seeing a group of young students gathered together around a display in the Science Exhibit Hall, receiving instruction from a staff member, participating in a STEM activity – or independently operating the 40-foot telescope – is Magic.  This is not your typical COSI experience – it is beyond that – young minds are learning and being challenged to learn concepts, operate equipment, and analyze data in a way that is satisfying – by seeing real, unique results that only their decisions and actions yield.  College undergraduates have the opportunity to design features that will be put into place at an actual operating facility.  High school students have the opportunity through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory to analyze data that could yield fascinating new discoveries.  Middle school students from all over the country representing minority and female future scientists can participate in a Physicists Inspiring the Next Generation (PING) camp each summer.  There are many more unique programs available here that thousands of students have had the opportunity to participate in and regain an excitement about learning and problem solving that our more traditional methods of teaching are struggling with.  This is Magic.

The Green Bank Observatory inspires students of all backgrounds to learn about or even pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.  The inspiration experienced at Green Bank in turn enriches those fields by benefit of incorporating art and other talents to solve our future challenges.  This – again is Magic.

To learn about distinguished scientists whose careers began at the Green Bank Observatory – who will readily tell you the invaluable experiences they had gaining a foundation in research methodology and presentation skills as local high school students – is inspiring.  The Green Bank Observatory’s astronomers, engineers, software engineers, machinists, technicians, and education staff are not only at the top of their fields – they are open to sharing and mentoring what they have learned to the next generation of our problem solvers – including young people from these rural West Virginian communities and students from all over the country of different economic and ethnic backgrounds.  That is Magic.

To experience and get to know the unique family atmosphere of these communities in and around Green Bank – working and serving together – communities that are hardworking, quiet and caring, knowledgeable and talented, cooperative and respectful of all – is refreshing and yes – Magic.

To be lucky enough to have this opportunity to give back to the Green Bank Observatory by participating in a grass roots support group of it and hear the individual stories of how this place has impacted them and their families, and the call by many to the historic place the Observatory has in our hearts as well as the excitement in its future – is Magic.   From hearing the public comments –  the response to the importance of keeping the Green Bank Observatory fully funded  such that it can continue to remain a shining example of breakthrough discovery and excellence in education – has been bi-partisan and heartening.  We all share a common goal of a better future, of learning more about the mysteries of the Universe that unlock potential advancements for us as a civilization, retaining valuable jobs in our communities, and most importantly in the engagement and bright futures of our children.  That is also – Magic.

So, the Green Bank Observatory – rising in the midst of this rural, out of the way, radio quiet zone – where ground breaking scientific discovery and innovation is happening, where students are being inspired, satisfied by their contributions, and challenged to think deeper and in more complicated ways, where a community thrives from its very existence – must be fully funded and supported in all avenues to continue to provide this magical experience.