A new project funded by the National Science Foundation at the Green Bank Observatory will have a big impact on the astronomy community. 

Each year, the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope conducts hundreds of observations for scientists around the world. Increasingly, these observations are paired with other “messengers” – the photons, particles, and gravitational waves that carry information about the distant Universe to astronomers here on Earth. The GBT is also being used to directly detect the subtle effects of gravitational waves on radio sources known as pulsars. When studied together, through Multi-Messenger Astrophysics (MMA), this information provides an understanding of physical processes that cannot be achieved by the study of a single “messenger.” MMA is an exciting new era in the field of astronomy that will provide a greater understanding of the Universe. 

Observations made with the Green Bank Telescope result in extremely large amounts of data – quantities so immense that it can be challenging to store all of this information permanently. A new data archive constructed at the Observatory will allow this information to be preserved and more easily accessed by the greater astronomy community.

Archival data provides a unique snapshot of the sky preserved at that moment in time. In some cases, archival data may be the only means we have for studying a particular location at a particular wavelength, as the Earth’s sky and spectrum have become increasingly filled with human-made signals. When a new phenomenon or astronomical source is discovered, data archives allow us to look back in time through a new lens, discovering evidence of past activity. 

Scientific publications today often have citations of archival data papers in equal to primary paper sources. The Green Bank Observatory’s new data archive will allow the re-examination of known astrophysical objects, including black holes, and in light of new MMA discoveries, historical and time-constrained searches for variable and transient phenomenon. The data archive will also allow for the re-processing of data from large pulsar surveys, yielding newly discovered millisecond pulsars that are critical for the study of gravitational waves. 

Construction of the data archive at the Green Bank Observatory will begin in 2021. The archive will initially hold one petabyte (PB) of storage. How big is 1 PB? One estimate equates this to taking and storing over 4,000 digital photos a day – and every day for an entire lifetime.

To learn more about Green Bank Observatory research and observer opportunities visit our website.  

The Green Bank Observatory is a major facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc. 


Jill Malusky, Public Relations, jmalusky@nrao.edu 

Michael Holstine, Business Manager, mholstine@nrao.edu