Green Bank Observatory

July, 2020
Jansky Lab
Tucked away in a remote valley of the Appalachian Mountains, the Green Bank Observatory is a place of science, history, and a marvelous collection of radio telescopes. It is a perfect playground for film photographers, as all the digital equipment, including cameras, is prohibited on its grounds. This limitation sparked an idea of a project, that I decided to conduct. I armed myself with Intrepid 4x5 MK4 large format camera, a 6x12, and 6x7 film backs, rolls of black and white film, and visited this remote area of radio silence. I spent there many hours and came back with a set of images for a visual story.
45ft Telescope
My day started with the 45-Foot Telescope. Being located near the parking lot, it is the first point of interest for visitors, taking a walking tour.
140ft Telescope
140-foot Telescope is the largest telescope in the world on a polar-aligned mounting. While standing next to this beautiful instrument, I had a flashback to my childhood times, and science fiction books that I read back then. I think that authors, who illustrated them, drew their inspiration from this kind of design. At least to me, the telescope mount resembles a space station.
Green Bank Telescope
Green Bank Telescope (or GBT for short) is the crown jewel of the observatory, a technological marvel, and the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, its 100-meter dish is perfectly smooth to a noise level of 260 microns (5 human hairs). Such fine-tuning of the surface is possible due to more than two thousand panels that compose the dish. This elaborated setup requires an intricate mesh of the beams, hence the unusual look of the structure.
GBT, Tatel, 140ft and 10m Telescopes
I think that using the panoramic format for my Green Bank Observatory project was the right idea. Fitting a group of several telescopes, scattered on the valley floor, in one frame allows conveying the sense of the space and scale.
83-3 Telescope
Located beyond the spectacular Green Bank Telescope, this place seems to be forgotten by the majority of visitors. The 83-3 telescope was a part of the observatory's interferometer. Its twin - 83-2 telescope - resides in almost a kilometer away. Together with 83-1 - the Tatel Telescope - they operated synchronously, simulating one giant telescope of about a mile in diameter. Standing there was an unusual feeling. Again, as it happened to me earlier that day, I remembered a book from my childhood: the Roadside Picnic. Although its plot was not around telescopes, something in the environment set that mysterious mood. Maybe it was the natural deterioration of the structures or these cable spools. One way on another being there was a great experience.
20m Telescope
The 20-meter Telescope was built to measure highly accurate time, continental drift, and the Earth's precession. Earlier that day, its antenna was pointed upward, like all other telescopes on the site. On my way back from the far corner of the observatory ground, I found it looking directly at the sun. My natural thought was that there is some sun observation is going on right now, but later I learned that the instrument had some operational issues. Engineers on duty were, probably, checking its performance, and I feel lucky that clicked the shutter at the right time.
Tatel Telescope
The 85-foot Tatel Telescope, also designated as 85-1, is the oldest instrument in the observatory. Constructed in 1959, it saw extensive use until 2000 and used to be part of the Green Bank Interferometer. Although I had a panoramic image of this telescope in the foreground, the architectural style of the building and overall setting were compelling enough to break up my camera set for this individual portrait. I'm quite happy with the result. With a 4x5 camera, I was able to control the perspective and keep the weather mast perfectly vertical. The weather infused enough clouds in the sky to add the landscape feeling to the composition, and a light breeze moved the anemometer, adding a dynamic element to the scene.