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To the Stars: Science, tech offer opportunities for West Virginia

Most West Virginians do not think much about our state’s role in helping our nation reach for the stars.

We are the home state of one of NASA’s “hidden figures,” the late Katherine Johnson, whose mind was so sharp, some of the early astronauts would trust computer calculations only after she had confirmed them; the late Chuck Yeager, who after breaking the sound barrier became part of a test pilot training program for NASA; and Jon McBride an astronaut who reached the rank of captain.

But hidden in a remote pocket of Pocahontas County, in the heart of the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone, is the Green Bank Telescope and Observatory, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. Among its most recent discoveries is a previously unknown structure that could extend to the more distant parts of the Milky Way Galaxy.

We’re not talking a new planet or moon, but a structure made up of molecular gas, which would not have been detected without an instrument of the Green Bank Telescope’s sensitivity.

“The existence of this massive structure has implications for star formation theories, as well as the structure, make-up, and total mass of the interstellar medium,” the GBT reported.

In other words, it — and many other discoveries made right here in our mountains — are a big deal.

We don’t talk enough about the proof West Virginia has the “right stuff” when it comes to location and workforce that will propel us into the economy of the future. Though too many of our brightest and most capable young people feel as though they must leave the state to find jobs that will suit their dreams and skillset, they were raised and educated right here — plenty of them in our own colleges and universities, too. We’ve got the land. Just ask the folks planning to build the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Center in Grant and Tucker counties.

Perhaps development bureaucrats should reach for the stars in playing up what the Mountain State has already contributed to science and technology fields, as they seek to attract new employers who could find the same success.

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