Thursday, December 15, 2011

Astronomy students study cosmic radio waves in West Virginia observatory

Some of the most important signals stars send through the universe are invisible, so a group of Randolph astronomy students traveled to West Virginia to study the heavens with a radio telescope this month.

Starting at 4 p.m. on Dec. 2, the 30 students worked for 12 hours at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, W.Va. They steered a 40-foot radio telescope, collected information from cosmic radio sources, and analyzed the data. The process gave them experience with the kind of work professional astronomers do.

The observatory houses the world’s largest steerable radio telescope with a 100-foot diameter, as well as a 40-foot telescope that is used for educational purposes.

Katrin Schenk, a professor of physics and astronomy, said this was the first time she knows of the College taking students to the Green Bank observatory. While controlling and monitoring a large radio telescope is not an everyday experience, students regularly have the opportunity to study the skies in Winfree Observatory, the College’s star gazing facility featuring a computer-controlled 14-inch telescope.

The observatory also is open to the public for occasional Star Parties, which are listed in the College’s events calendar.