On August 25, 2000, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope was dedicated at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Pocahontas County. At 16-million pounds, it’s the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.
Its accuracy is so precise it’s like seeing the width of a human hair from six feet away. The telescope’s 2,004 panels are mounted on actuators, little motor-driven pistons that adjust the shape of the surface.
The telescope replaced an earlier 300-foot meridian transit telescope that operated from 1961 until collapsing in 1988.
Green Bank—located in a beautiful pastoral setting—was chosen to host the National Radio Astronomy Observatory because of its low population, lack of industrial development, and surrounding mountains, which shield it from radio interference. The observatory opened in 1959. The next year, noted astronomer Frank Drake launched the NASA Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, at Green Bank.
In January 2016, a new project was started to search nearby stars for radio emissions that might indicate intelligent life. This 10-year, $100 million initiative is led by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and cosmologist Stephen Hawking.