From GBO: “50 years ago, graduate student Jocelyn Bell (now Dr. Bell Burnell) was the first to spot “a bit of scruff” in her radio surveys.

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Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA
Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA

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Green Bank Observatory

That “scruff” turned out to be a new kind of star, the Pulsar.

Named for the regular radio pulses it emitted every 1.3 seconds, this exotic star had such a rapid rotation rate that scientists knew it must be small–about the size of a city! The fastest pulsars, known as millisecond pulsars, spin at a few hundred times per second… that’s faster than your kitchen blender!

By carefully measuring when radio pulses arrive from millisecond pulsars, astronomers can track the tiny changes in the distance from the Earth to the pulsars caused by the stretching and squeezing of spacetime due to a gravitational wave. Today, astronomers from NANOGrav (North American Nanohertz Observatory forGravitational Waves) are searching for these gravitational waves using some of the largest telescopes in the world, including the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

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Graduate student Jocelyn Bell. This year marks the semicentennial of the discovery of pulsars, first observed by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, shown here in 1968 at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge, England.

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Astronomers see galaxies merging throughout the universe, some of which should result in binary supermassive black holes. (Image: NASA)

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Mission Statement

Green Bank Observatory enables leading edge research at radio wavelengths by offering telescope, facility and advanced instrumentation access to the astronomy community as well as to other basic and applied research communities. With radio astronomy as its foundation, the Green Bank Observatory is a world leader in advancing research, innovation, and education.

History

60 years ago, the trailblazers of American radio astronomy declared this facility their home, establishing the first ever National Radio Astronomy Observatory within the United States and the first ever national laboratory dedicated to open access science. Today their legacy is alive and well.