Pinhole Photos at NRAO's Green Bank Observatory
On July 6th, I had the honor and privilege of getting a personal closeup photo tour of the world's largest fully steerable (moveable in both horizonal and vertical directions -- not a "fixed dish") radio telescope in the world -- the Byrd Radio Telescope at NRAO's Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

I had been emailing off and on with the staff at Green Bank observatory for the past two years, and at long last, after reviewing my architecture pinhole photos and agreeing that I could capture some unique perspectives of their largest telescope (the Byrd Telescope, hereafter called just "The GBT" - the Green Bank Telescope), Mike Holstine, the observatory's business manager and former chief engineer, invited me to meet with him at 7:30 AM on Monday morning.

I shot all of my photos with a brand new pinhole camera -- an all-metal camera conceptualized by myself, but officially designed and built by Matt Abelson of Abelson Scopeworks (www.abelsonscopeworks.com). It's an f/138, 25mm focal length metal camera, with a cable-release operated internal metal shutter. The entire camera was machined out of aluminum, anodized black, and the tripod sockets and cable release socket were all done in stainless steel. The pinhole was a laser-drilled Precision Pinhole 0.18mm pinhole, meant for use in electron microscopy. Every part of the camera is capable of being unbolted, unscrewed, and changed out in the event of repairs being required.

I will be posting photos of this camera in the near future. The best thing about it is -- given the internal shutter and its robust construction, it behaved as an INVISIBLE CAMERA -- it was there, performing simply and perfectly, with no fussing or worrying about a more fragile external wood shutter, etc.

Anyway, I'll be posting lots of ultrawide-angle shots from the GBT (Green Bank Telescope) in the coming weeks... I took 20 4x5 photos during my three hours "on the scope".

I arrived at Green Bank on a drizzly, misty Sunday afternoon (the day before meeting with Mike), and I walked alone around the observatory, taking pinhole shots as well as possible, given my relatively large distance to the variety of telescopes from outside their respective security fences.

The GBT is about a 1.5 mile walk from the last point to which I could operate my gasoline powered engine without electrically interfering with their telescopes. Cell phones are prohibited, no digital cameras, no motor-driven film winders on film cameras either... The observatory is in the middle of the National Radio Quiet zone. Only diesel-powered vehicles are allowed near the telescopes, due to their absence of spark plugs.

The GBT is about as tall as the Washington Monument (around 500 feet), with a moving mass of roughly 8,000 tons and a total weight, including foundation, exceeding 10,000 tons. In short, it's MONSTROUS...

On Monday, the day of my tour, the telescope was in maintenance mode, meaning that the reflector was positioned horizontally, the feeder arm was vertical, the drive system was in standby (not driving at the sidereal rate), the detectors were at low voltage (but were still cooled to 15K), and the actively controlled surface of the massive reflector was off (I would never have walked on it if that weren't true!).

In the end, Mike took me where no other VIP's are taken. Not only did we venture to the TOP of the feeder arm containing the secondary mirror (at the highest point on the telescope, perched on a catwalk about 500 feet above ground level), but I walked OUT ONTO THE MAIN DISH of the telescope, the primary reflector, with a dimensionality of 100 x 110 METERS. I have pinhole photos of the massive structure, the drive system, and a view of the overarching feeder arm from the center of the main parabolic dish.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for me, a pinhole photographer, an artist, and also an astronomer (my master's degree is in astrophysics, and I worked for 13 years as an astronomical software engineer with the Hubble Telescope Project).
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