Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

WV State News

July 1, 2013

West Virginia University considering role in Green Bank observatory

CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia University is considering taking on what it calls a “minority management role” at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank.

A special review panel has recommended that the National Science Foundation stop funding the observatory and the Very Long Base Line Array within five years. Some say the decision would be a serious blow to the world’s astronomers.   

West Virginia’s congressional delegation has been working to find a new future for the facility.

Vice president of research Fred King says WVU has a strong partnership with the observatory, and the school is committed to being an international leader in radio astronomy.

Officials with WVU and Associated Universities Inc., which manages the observatory for the NSF, met Monday in Green Bank to discuss ideas.

“Simply put, it’s a state treasure. And we’ll fight tirelessly to keep it open-and keep it strong,” said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who announced WVU’s interest.

Rockefeller chairs the Senate committee that oversees the NSF and says it must understand the vital role the observatory plays in Pocahontas County and in the science community. He calls it a global hub for math and science education.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said he’ll work with Rockefeller and Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall to keep one the world’s best telescopes in operation.

Manchin said Congress needs “budget solutions that trim fat without cutting vital programs like our state-of-the-art Green Bank Observatory,” while Rahall has said it’s “ridiculous” to abandon a $95 million investment.

The 16 million-ton Green Bank Telescope is the world’s largest, fully steerable single-dish radio telescope and has been in full operation for less than a decade. 

Astronomers and students worldwide use it to search for the molecular building blocks of life in space, for studying matter at extreme densities, for mapping clouds of intergalactic gas invisible to other scopes and more.  

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., where its Central Development Laboratory develops and builds key components for the Very Long Baseline Array.

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