The National Science Foundation (NSF) will give its Green Bank Telescope (GBT) a $13-million upgrade.
“The GBT is the world’s largest fully steerable telescope and the largest single-dish telescope capable of millimeter-wavelength observations,” according to Green Bank Observatory in a press release.
Located in West Virginia, the telescope will be getting a new precision laser ranging measurement system. The addition will allow GBT to work day and night as it observes outer space at radio wavelengths at a small scale—down to 3 mm.
Such high-frequency observations were previously feasible only at night, since daytime solar heating created enough distortion to rule out 3-mm abilities.
“While the GBT’s existing systems work well at night, it can be very difficult to make high-precision adjustments during daylight hours, when sunlight falling on different parts of the dish causes temperature changes and unpredictable distortions that cannot currently be measured,” says Jay Lockman, astronomer at the Green Bank Observatory, and principal investigator on the new laser metrology system.
The upgrades will eliminate this issue and enable real-time precision measurements by supplying GBT’s control systems with the data it needs to fix dish distortions. By improving both day and night workflow, the telescope will add a total of 1,000 hours per year to its schedule at its highest operating frequency.
“This upgrade will also enable the GBT to work in concert with other millimeter-wavelength telescopes, opening up new observing capabilities for the national and international astronomical community,” says Lockman.
A proof-of-concept was already tested on the telescope. According to Green Bank Observatory, most of the transition will be software based, which will be needed “to interpret the data from the laser system so the existing actuators can maintain the shape of the dish with the precision necessary for daytime millimeter observations.”
In 2 years, the system will begin testing, with full deployment finalized within a 3-year window.