NANOGrav & Green Bank Telescope Poised to Make Groundbreaking Discoveries of Gravitational Wave Universe

Since 2019, the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation has provided two awards totaling $3.5 million to the development of new Ultra Wideband technologies and observation time for NANOGrav on the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (pictured left.) The fabrication of the new Ultra Wideband feed is complete and it is now undergoing testing (picture right).

For the next three years, astronomers from the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) will have increased access and new technologies to use on the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in their breakthrough scientific studies of gravitational waves. This new technology and additional observation time is supported by funding from the Moore Foundation. 

Founded in October 2007, NANOGrav’s research community has grown to over 150 research scientists and students at over 50 institutions. The Moore Foundation’s new $2.3 million award will provide over 600 hours of GBT observing time during each of the next three years for the monitoring or timing of over 60 rapidly-spinning millisecond pulsars. These observations, combined with over 15 years worth of timing data from the GBT and the recently-collapsed Arecibo Observatory, should enable NANOGrav to directly detect extremely low-frequency gravitational waves from supermassive black hole binaries throughout the universe. It will also enable a wide variety of exciting astrophysics with neutron stars.

“The loss of Arecibo was a huge blow to us in NANOGrav, and an even bigger blow to the island of Puerto Rico. This funding from the Moore Foundation is fantastic, as it helps to mitigate the loss of that telescope and guarantees that NANOGrav has the observing time it needs to hopefully nail down a detection of gravitational waves very soon,” says current Chair of NANOGrav, Scott Ransom, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

This research will take advantage of a new Ultra Wideband (UWB) receiver and digital instrumentation for the GBT, funded by a 2019 award from the Moore Foundation and in development by the staff of the Green Bank Observatory. The new receiver will operate at frequencies of about 0.7 to 4 GHz  a “sweet spot” for observing pulsars. This new technology has the potential to double the precision of NANOGrav’s measurements, making it more sensitive to distant sources of gravitational waves. NANOGrav’s improved data will also be used for other scientific explorations such as seeking out subtle effects from Einstein’s general relativity. The UWB instruments will also provide new insight into fast radio bursts and other radio transients.

The new UWB receiver and digital instrumentation will make NANOGrav’s GBT observation time much more efficient. While the hours available are less than those on Arecibo, the receiver’s sensitivity and new capabilities will allow them to reevaluate their targets, selecting those that are best observed by this new technology, yielding better data.

“I’m really excited to get the new receiver on the telescope.  Because it works over a much wider range of wavelengths at the same time, it’s like using two GBTs simultaneously to make our observations,” says Ransom.

The new Moore Foundation funding exemplifies how a public-private partnership can enable breakthrough science, with private funding from Moore, and public funding from the NSF. Dr. Robert Kirshner, Chief Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has worked closely with Ransom and the NANOGrav team. “NANOGrav is a great scientific adventure on the cusp of success. As an astronomer myself, I am especially delighted to help move this program forward with the novel receiver you’ve built and by providing telescope time that will help compensate for the tragedy at Arecibo,” shared Kirshner. 

The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc. To learn more about Green Bank Observatory Observatory science and to see research opportunities visit our website. 

NANOGrav is funded as a National Science Foundation Physics Frontiers Center (PFC). Additional funding is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for technology development and observations. Learn more about the NANOGrav PFC.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org or follow @MooreFound. 

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Contacts:

Jill Malusky, Green Bank Observatory Public Relations, [email protected]

Dr. Elizabeth Ferrara, NANOGrav PIO, [email protected]

NRAO Director Tony Beasley Appointed to New Five-Year Term

 

Dr. Tony Beasley, Director of the National Science Foundation’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), has been appointed to a new five-year term. The Board of Trustees for AUI— which operates NRAO under a cooperative agreement— and the NRAO Director Review Committee conducted a thorough review of Beasley’s leadership and performance earlier this year, and have appointed the Director to the new term through May 2027.

 

“Tony is an outstanding leader and stalwart champion for NRAO, the field of radio astronomy, the beauty of science, and the critical role of big facilities in the R&D ecosystem,” said Adam Cohen, President and CEO of AUI, which operates NRAO under a cooperative agreement. “He continues to support very innovative education and outreach programs to help build the workforce of the future, as well as programs and activities to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in our workplaces.” 

 

Over the course of more than two decades, Beasley’s leadership has shaped the present and future of NRAO’s leading-edge radio astronomy facilities, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), and Very Large Array (VLA). More recently, he has collaborated on efforts to encourage cooperation between commercial spectrum users and research facilities and has created partnerships to explore the use of Green Bank Observatory’s radar systems in planetary science and defense applications. 

 

Beasley recently has generated significant support for the future of NRAO’s facilities, reaching major milestones in 2021. The observatory’s proposed next generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) received high priority for new ground-based observatories in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020). Late last year, NRAO’s Central Development Laboratory (CDL) received approval and funding through the ambitious ALMA2030 Development Plan to upgrade its Band 6 receivers, which are ALMA’s most productive receivers. 

 

An ardent supporter of diversity, equity, and inclusion in astronomy and astrophysics, Beasley has elevated the efforts of NRAO’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Broader Impacts, and community development initiatives, including the National Astronomy Consortium (NAC), RADIAL, National and International Non-traditional Exchange (NINE), Research Experiences for Undergraduate students (REU), and most recently, grants for women in engineering fellowships and the development of a next generation Learning Center (ngLC). 

 

“Being a part of NRAO for more than 20 years has given me the opportunity to observe, contribute to, and lead growth and change in astronomy that positively impacts our facilities and allows us to collaborate with other like-minded institutions,” said Beasley. “I am proud of the work our teams have accomplished in research, engineering, outreach, and equity, and look forward to serving the NRAO community for another five years.”

 

Beasley, who holds a Doctorate in Astrophysics from the University of Sydney, was first appointed as NRAO Director in February 2012, after previously serving the observatory and the radio astronomy community in multiple capacities. He joined NRAO as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 1991 and served as Deputy Assistant Director in 1997 and Assistant Director from 1998 to 2000. He briefly left NRAO that year to become Project Manager for the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA). In 2004, he returned to NRAO as Assistant Director, as well as Project Manager for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. From 2008 to 2012, Beasley served as the Chief Operating Officer and Project Manager of NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). In addition to his role as NRAO Director, Beasley presently serves as the AUI Vice President for Radio Astronomy Operations. 

 

In January 2022, Beasley was honored as a Lifetime Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in recognition of his significant contributions to the field of radio astronomy. 

 

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