20150721_greenbank

Is there life out there? The question is more important than the answer when it comes to keeping the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank alive and open.

That’s because famed scientist Stephen Hawking and other researchers announced Monday they’re pouring $100 million over the next 10 years into that search—and they’re going to use the Green Bank Telescope to do it. That’s some big news for this West Virginia landmark.

In August of 2012, the Observatory was recommended for closure if it couldn’t find other funding.

While it won’t save the site completely from closure, it’s a step in the right direction that may excite other researchers about the possibilities for use of the telescope, Dr. Karen O’Neil told us Tuesday morning.

“It’s a huge windfall for us,” said Dr. O’Neil, the long-time site director who’s also a West Virginia native. She wouldn’t say just how much money the Observatory was getting, however.

The Breakthrough Initiative will last 10 years and organizers say “will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.”

Hawking’s group has committed $100 million – some of that will go to Green Bank.

The telescope will be used, along with the Parkes Telescope in Australia, to listen for signs of life in the 100 million closest stars. Not an easy task: You have to be listening at the right time, at the right place, Dr. O’Neil says.

Even if they don’t find anything, Dr. O’Neil says they’ll still learn a lot in the process. And we’re one step closer keeping this incredible tool and West Virginia landmark alive.

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