Are you reading this on your cell phone right now? Hope you’re not planning on passing through Green Bank, West Virginia in the next few minutes. That would put you square in the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ), an area that sits along the borders of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland and is technically a wireless signal-free zone thanks to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). It is amongst this generally wide-open stretch of land you’ll find the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope under the watchful eye (and ears) of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, pointed to the sky and studying whatever is above us, no matter small or distant that might be.
Did you know?
- Green Bank’s official population is only 143 people, but approximately 25,000 tourists visit the observatory every year.
- The observatory was established in 1956 and the telescope, all 17 million pounds (7.7 million kilograms) of it, opened in 1959.
- There are now several smaller telescopes scattered in the area across 2,700 acres of parkland.
- With the nickname ‘the quietest town in America’, Green Bank’s residents use dial-up modems and are banned from cell phone use while at home.
- The wireless ban has been good news for some. People who feel they suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity having been visiting and relocating to the area for years.
- The observatory’s job is to look for signals from potentially millions of miles away. Any stray radio or cell signal can cause interference.
- First-responders are only allowed to use short-distance CBs, and they’re the only people permitted to use communication radios in the region.
- Green Bank’s streets are patrolled for errant signals, including repeat issues found in the past stemming from microwaves and automatic doors.
- The telescope has even had problems with radar from planes and orbiting satellites.
- It is one of a dozen of telescopes of this type in the world currently. Others can be found in China, France, Japan, Sweden and Australia.